CFP: Germany's Memory Mainstream, London (01.04.2020)

Jane Lewin's picture

School of Advanced Study | University of London


CALL FOR PAPERS (closing date: 1 April 2020)


Germany’s Memory Mainstream

Friday, 11 September 2020 at the
Institute of Modern Languages Research, University of London, WC1E 7HU





Keynote speakers: Professor David Clarke, Cardiff University, and Professor Bill Niven, Nottingham Trent University


James Young’s much-cited dictum that, when it comes to Germany’s memory of dictatorship, the debate is the most valuable outcome, has encouraged research to focus on the disagreements and controversies generated by memorials and museums across Germany. This symposium, to be held at the IMLR London in September 2020, asks what can be gained if we switch the focus from controversy and struggle to their less spectacular outcomes: the routine activity of institutionalized memory in Germany and the work of the professional cadres who run and support it.

For instance, while the negotiations over Munich’s new documentation centre were long and fraught, it took only weeks from its opening for it to be recommended in lists of ‘Top 10 things to see in Munich’, suggesting that tourist practices can very readily absorb a socially controversial past. Memorial sites that might once have been run by volunteers who felt unsupported and marginal now have a staff of professional historians and guides trained in memorial-site pedagogy. Politicians routinely endorse exhibitions and participate in memorial ceremonies.

Of course, the renewed threat of far-right thinking, the gradual changeover of generations, and Germany’s changing demographics mean that Germany’s memory of dictatorship is unlikely ever to reach a steady state. The symposium proposes, however, that any institutionalized field necessarily has aspects of steadiness, routine, consolidation, and automatization, and that there is potential for new insights if these aspects are singled out and examined.

The 2010s were characterised by intellectual and academic discomfort at the state of Germany’s memory of dictatorship (and particularly of the National Socialist era). In 2010, Ulrike Jureit worried about the purpose of Germany’s ‘Olympiade der Betroffenheit’ and sought ways of breaking through ‘das stahlharte Gehäuse normierten Gedenkens’. In 2012, Dana Giesicke and Harald Welzer criticized a ‘bis zur Erstarrung stabiler Gedenk- und Erinnerungslandschaft’; the following year, Aleida Assmann worried that the ‘allgemeine Routine und Betriebsamkeit der Erinnerungsaktivitäten’ might prevent those engaged in memory work from meeting the challenges of the future. More recently, Jens-Christian Wagner, head of the Lower Saxony memorial sites, warned against ‘Entlastungsrituale’ and a ‘Wohlfühlerinnerung’. Last year’s London symposium on the ‘Crisis in “Coming to Terms with the Past”’ considered the role of populism worldwide in shaking up apparently accepted memory paradigms. Yet all the while new exhibitions have opened in Germany, new museums have settled into their surroundings, careers in the heritage of dictatorship have been consolidated, and research into the dictatorships has flourished.

In the midst of an ongoing ‘Unbehagen’ (Jureit und Schneider), this symposium therefore looks askance at German memory culture, seeing it from the perspective of the very ‘stability’, ‘routine’, ‘norms’, and ‘industrious activity’ that intellectual voices worry about. We propose that it must be possible to study these characteristics without immediately reading them negatively. How do professionalization, financial security, staunch support from the political centre, and integration into mainstream popular and high culture affect memory work in Germany?

Possible topics for papers include:

  • The professionalization of memory curation and pedagogy, including education and training (e.g. masters’ provision in Public History or Gedenkstättenpädagogik).
  • Mapping as a mechanism for stabilising a view of memory sites.
  • The integration of memorial sites into urban spatial organization and tourist routine.
  • The alignment of memorials and museums devoted to National Socialism and the GDR with legal and social expectations about accessibility for the disabled and marginalized.
  • Digitization and/or social-media work at memory institutions.
  • Systems of subsidy and sponsorship.
  • Norms and routines of translation at sites of German memory.

Speakers are asked to consider what can be learned from viewing these aspects of memory culture – at least provisionally – not as contested, threatened, or stale and awaiting reform, but as mechanisms of routinization and stabilization that project current norms into the future. We plan to publish a selection of the papers.

If you are interested in participating, please send an abstract of roughly 300 words, for a 20-minute paper in English, to, including a short bio with your email. Papers will be confirmed by 1 May 2020.


Institute of Modern Languages Research

School of Advanced Study | University of London

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Redaktion: Constanze Baum – Lukas Büsse – Mark-Georg Dehrmann – Nils Gelker – Markus Malo – Alexander Nebrig – Johannes Schmidt

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