Memory is life, borne by living societies founded in its name. It remains in permanent evolution, open to the dialectic of remembering and forgetting, unconscious of its successive deformations, vulnerable to manipulation and appropriation, susceptible to being long dormant and periodically revived.

(Pierre Nora, „Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire“)

 

The studies of French philosopher and sociologist Maurice Halbwachs on collective memory and the concept of Lieux de Memoire, developed by the French historian Pierre Nora based on Halbwachs‘ theories,  inspired us to the seminar theme of „Memory Spaces.“

At first glance, the term Memory Space seems clearly defined. But on closer inspection and investigation, it becomes obvious that behind it there lies far more than just the terminology for the relationship between a location and the memories manifested within it. Halbwachs‘ theory of collective memory derives from the assumption that personal memory isn‘t existent on its own, as all memorised content is influenced by its surroundings. In addition, Halbwachs declares that collective memory forms a bridge between a culture‘s past and its current state, thus revealing opportunities to analyse and understand social behaviour.

Accordingly, Nora‘s concept goes back to the theory that collective as well as individual memory crystallises within certain spaces – in Nora‘s case, spaces and locations within which French historical heritage culminates – and thus, as a sociohistorical beacon of social groups, becomes an influential element of remembrance culture. The difficulty of the term is justified in that it goes far beyond merely concerning fixed locations. According to Nora, collective memory not only derives from locations, but also personalities, mythical figures, symbols, rituals, or traditions. A trope manifests which becomes identifying for a collective.

The term memory space not only being used to refer to material but also metaphysical concepts becomes apparent for example within works of research that deal with the Berlin aerial bridge as a memory space of the Cold War. Further examples used by Etienne François and Hagen Schulze concerning German memory spaces are terms such as Berliner Mauer, Wartburg, Heinrich Heine, Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, „Wir sind das Volk“, Duden, Feierabend or Bundesliga.

In addition, constant evolution is integral to the concept of memory spaces, which by now far transcends national borders. For example, one can find terms such as „German-Polish memory spaces“, or „European memory spaces“ when delving into the subject.

The importance of the research on memory spaces becomes apparent once one follows the assumption that collective memory exists and manifests at points of crystallization in a public environment. The science of history is thus given an opportunity to analyse sociocultural relationships and identities based on their memory spaces.

 

Marburg‘s New-Year‘s seminar has the goal of adapting Nora‘s concept and discussing it through a variety of workshops. Our section has developed several workshops on this topic, concerning memory spaces of Antiquity, Medieval times, the Early Modern Period, and Recent History. The workshops‘ individual topics have intentionally been chosen to be rather broad and far-reaching, to allow for the inclusion of different areas of interest. Thus, there is the possibility that each workshop delivers to its participants both a relevant temporal context as well as the opportunity to focus on one‘s own preferred areas of study.

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