Generating New Insights into the Study of Collective Memory

Author: Lina Klymenko

In November 2018, I participated in the workshop “Contested Memories in the City: Monuments, Archives, Traces” organized by Sarah Dornhof (Center “Cultural Foundations of Integration”) and Ulrike Capdepón and Piotr Kisiel (Balzan Price research group led by Aleida and Jan Assmann) at the University of Konstanz.

The workshop gathered scholars and artists who work on collective memory in an urban setting. It combined keynote speeches by leading scholars in the field of Memory Studies, presentations of other scholars, and talks given by artists involved in public art projects. In their key notes, Chiara De Cesari elaborated on the uses of European heritage by far right political parties and Teresa Pinheiro talked on the persistence of imperial memories in Portugal. In her speech at the end of the workshop, Aleida Assmann shared her reflections on the changing shapes of public monuments across Europe. The artists Randa Maroufi, Manaf Halbouni and Mohamed Fariji offered their perspectives on public art projects in Spain, Germany and Morocco, respectively.

In line with the title of the workshop, we discussed the concepts of ‘memory’, ‘contestation’, and ‘urban space’ in various cultural settings in Europe, North Africa and Southeast Asia. Our discussions centred on the diverse forms and functions of memory sites such as monuments, museums, street names and historical buildings. Scholars discussed the formation of historical memories of French rule in North Africa, British rule in Southeast Asia, Ottoman Turkey, the Franco dictatorship in Spain, and the Communist regime in Poland and Ukraine. Other scholars analysed the formation of collective memories in post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina and Lebanon and in post-socialist Poland and Eastern Germany.

We engaged in discussions on how the collective memory of certain historical events has been negotiated, for example in transnational communities (presentations by Susanne Mersmann and Nadia Sabria), as well as between neighbourhood communities in London (Astrid Swenson and Ann-Sophie Schoepfel); city communities in Lodz and Chemnitz (Piotr Kisiel); central and local governments in Poltava (Lina Klymenko); political parties in Madrid (Ulrike Capdepón); groups of architects in Sarajevo and Beirut (Gruia Badescu); the victimizer and the victimized in Yerevan and Istanbul (Suzan Meryem Rosita); and the colonizer and the colonized in Luanda (Nadine Siegert), Yangon (Felix Girke), and in cities in Algeria (Dónal Hassett).

We discussed how the formation of collective memory relates to broader questions of identity, political regime, transitional justice and international relations. In this regard, one of the most inspiring presentations was Ulrike Capdepón’s talk on the current change of street names in Madrid in the context of Spain’s coming to terms with the Franco dictatorship. It triggered an intense debate on working through the past in post-dictatorial countries, spurring questions such as: What are the strategies of coming to terms with a dictatorial past?; How is this process embedded in a specific cultural context?; What does the change of street names mean for the general public and the political elites of a country?; and How does the change of street names work as a transitional justice mechanism?       

Ultimately, the workshop offered a great opportunity to present research to a broader audience, to develop research cooperation, and to prepare a joint publication!

1 thought on “Generating New Insights into the Study of Collective Memory

  1. Anonymous

    You make some thoughtful points within this article, but are you oversimplifying something crucial?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.