Columbia University in the City of New York

Harriman Institute

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Sleepless Nights, Dreamy Nights: Working with Dreams and Other Nighttime Documents in Eastern Europe and Beyond

The Center for Urban History (Ukraine), The Columbia Institute for Ideas and Imagination (USA), the Columbia University Department of History (USA), CERCEC/EHESS (France), and the Harriman Institute introduce Sleepless Nights, Dreamy Nights: Working with Dreams and Other Nighttime Documents in Eastern Europe and Beyond.

Listening to sirens and phone alerts. Staying updated through the media to make informed choices about when and where to sleep. Constantly monitoring the time and adapting to curfew rules. Experiencing nights of restlessness as well as nights filled with vivid dreams. These are all part of the nightly realities faced by civilians enduring wartime conditions. The full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation and the war in Ukraine push us to ask new questions, revisit historical accounts, and explore connections and divergences in the ways in which wars are experienced and imagined while also pursuing an inquiry into how war experiences can highlight the ways we imagine ourselves and our societies.

Paying attention to the night rather than the daytime helps us capture personal emotions and experiences, which, in turn, shape social and cultural realities and imaginations. A study of the distinct temporality and spatiality of the nighttime allows for a more nuanced exploration of how the personal and the social manifest and intersect. The night is a time of solitude, reflection, individual contemplation, introspection, and self-examination. It is also a time of greater vulnerability, on a personal and a collective level, and for this reason, bears the most significant impact and the greatest disruption in times of insecurity and war. Thus, focusing on nighttime is critical for exploring societies and individuals in turbulent and violent times.

Much of the research in night studies centers around urban environments: cities come alive at night with a unique set of activities; nightlife, entertainment, nocturnal work, and transportation all share an urban dimension. Throughout history, wandering the streets at night has often been associated with shadowy worlds inhabited by rogues, night-shift workers, and rule-breakers. Nevertheless, the night offers more than just a refuge for vice, so another facet of the night exists beyond this perception. Focusing on personal accounts, including dreams and nighttime reflections in various personal accounts and documents, can be essential for a multifaceted understanding of historical events, particularly traumatic events such as war and mass violence. Such sources can provide a nuanced perspective that transcends traditional historical narratives, shedding light on the diverse experiences of individuals from different backgrounds.

The region in the focus is Eastern Europe, a highly heterogeneous place marked by a complex and intertwined history, populated with communities sharing geographical space and divided by conflicting experiences, especially in the context of violence and wars. By delving into personal accounts and dreams from this region, we gain insights that extend well beyond regional boundaries. These accounts can serve as bridges to connect with other regions that have undergone similar challenges and conflicts, fostering a broader dialogue on shared human experiences during times of upheaval. In this way, our focus on Eastern Europe serves as a departure point to build a more interconnected and comprehensive understanding of history and its reverberations with other regions and places globally. The workshop contributes to exploring such connections by bringing research from Southern Europe and Latin America into conversation.

The workshop builds on a documentation initiative launched by the Center for Urban History after February 24, 2022, which focused on gathering diaries and dreams related to the war, as well as on the seminar “Documenting Dreams of War” that took place online on May 15, 2023. In bringing together anthropologists, historians, literary scholars, and psychotherapists, the workshop aims to foster methodological reflections and share experiences and analytical frameworks. Our hope is that the intimate format and the extended time we allot for discussions will help foster present and future collaborations.

Programming Committee

  • Bohdan Shumylovych, Sofia Dyak (Center for Urban History)
  • Malgorzata Mazurek, Ofer Dynes (Columbia University)
  • Masha Cerovic (CERCEC/EHESS)

Organizational Committee

  • Maryana Mazurak, Viktoriia Panas (Center for Urban History)
  • Marie d’Origny, Meredith Hunter-Mason (Institute for Ideas and Imagination), Eileen Huhn (Harriman Institute)
  • Thomas da Silva (CERCEC/EHESS)

List of Participants


Cover Image: Sen or Dream by Marek Włodarski, 1930, part of the collection of the National Museum in Wrocław // National Museum in Wrocław // via


Event Video

Day One

Day Two