The Future and the Materialization of Memory in Public Space, 8-10 November 2018
Author: Piotr Kisiel
The conference in Nova Gorica, Slovenia The Future and the Materialization of Memory in Public Space: Nova Gorica – A Town Built on the Border after the Second World War in Comparative Perspective (programme) examined how political and national conflicts of the 19th and 20th centuries have changed the cities and their public spaces and how those processes have influenced historical memory. The attending scholars came primarily from art history, but some also represented history or anthropology.
The comparative approach taken at the conference has enormous value as it allows to look beyond the particularities of various case studies and see broader patterns across time and space. The conference contributes to deeper understanding not only of the functioning of collective memories and politics of memory, but also of shaping of the cityscape in Europe.
One of the most interesting papers was presented by Dragan Damjanović who demonstrated how urban space of Zagreb in the late 19th century was used to negotiate political power between the national oriented politicians in control of the city council and the government of the crownland which was aligned with Budapest. The comparison to similar cases in Cisleithania allow to better understand the dynamics in both halves of Austro-Hungary.
The conference would have benefited with addressing more the under-theoretisation of memory studies in the lines of the arguments of Hirst&Manier and Wawrzyniak. During the conference, “memory” and/or “collective memory(ies)” had at least three distinctive meanings: (1) actual memories of historical events among the population of a given city, (2) politics of memory on state/urban level and (3) works of art depicting past events. Yet, these three sphere are very different from each other and do not address the same issues. Furthermore, it is hard to agree that knowledge of historical figures or events and collective memory are the same thing.
One shortcoming of some presentations was the assumption that mere presence of a historical monument, even if locally anchored cannot be taken as an evidence of shared memory in the given community. For that one has to examine who initiated the project, how it was financed and how it functions in the public space.
For these reasons, I think there is still a great need for more methodological consideration when dealing with issues of collective memory. This concept still has a huge scientific potential but it has to be used with a lot of precision and not just as an all-encompassing key word.