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Cultural Memory Studies



Part IV, Chapter 3. By D. Manier & W. Hirst. Pp. 253-263. A cognitive taxonomy of collective memories. Abstract: Our proposed cognitive taxonomy of collective memory sketches a way to map constraints on memory at the individual level onto constraints at the collective level. That is, we can discern distinctive principles governing collective episodic, semantic, and procedural memories by examining the principles governing their individual analogues.
Cultural Memory Studies
Media and Cultural Memory /
Medien und
kulturelle Erinnerung
Edited by / Herausgegeben von
Astrid Erll · Ansgar Nünning
Editorial Board / Wissenschaftlicher Beirat
Aleida Assmann · Mieke Bal · Marshall Brown · Vita Fortunati
Udo Hebel · Claus Leggewie · Gunilla Lindberg-Wada
Jürgen Reulecke · Jean Marie Schaeffer · Jürgen Schlaeger
Siegfried J. Schmidt · Werner Sollors · Frederic Tygstrup
Harald Welzer
Walter de Gruyter · Berlin · New York
Cultural Memory Studies
An International
and Interdisciplinary Handbook
Edited by
Astrid Erll · Ansgar Nünning
in collaboration with
Sara B. Young
Walter de Gruyter · Berlin · New York
! Printed on acid-free paper which falls within the guidelines of the ANSI
to ensure permanence and durability.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Cultural memory studies : an international and interdisciplinary hand-
book / edited by Astrid Erll, Ansgar Nünning.
p. cm. ! (Media and cultural memory ; 8 " Medien und kultu-
relle Erinnerung ; 8)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-3-11-018860-8 (alk. paper)
1. Culture ! Handbooks, manuals, etc. 2. Memory ! Cross-cul-
tural studies ! Handbooks, manuals, etc. I. Erll, Astrid. II. Nün-
ning, Ansgar.
HM621.C8534 2008
ISSN 1613-8961
ISBN 978-3-11-018860-8
Bibliographic information published by the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek
The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche
Nationalbibliografie; detailed bibliographic data are available in the Internet
! Copyright 2008 by Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, D-10785 Berlin
All rights reserved, including those of translation into foreign languages. No part of this
book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or me-
chanical, including photocopy, recording or any information storage and retrieval system,
without permission in writing from the publisher.
Printed in Germany
Cover design: Christopher Schneider, Berlin
Preface and Acknowledgements
Cultural memory studies came into being at the beginning of the twentieth
century, with the works of Maurice Halbwachs on mémoire collective. In the
course of the last two decades this area of research has witnessed a verita-
ble boom in various countries and disciplines. As a consequence, the study
of the relations between culture and memory has diversified into a broad
range of approaches. Today, the complex issue of cultural memory is re-
markably interdisciplinary: Concepts of cultural memory circulate in his-
tory, the social and political sciences, philosophy and theology, psychol-
ogy, the neurosciences, and psychoanalysis, as well as in literary and media
studies. Sometimes these concepts converge; at other times they seem to
exclude one another; and all too often, researchers in one discipline seem
to take no notice of the work done in neighboring disciplines.
Moreover, cultural memory studies is a decidedly international field:
Important concepts have been generated in France, Germany, Great Brit-
ain, Italy, Canada, the United States, and the Netherlands. At the same
time, however, we have seen how nationally specific academic traditions
and language barriers have tended to impede the transfer of knowledge
about cultural memory.
The handbook project proceeds from the assumption that, more often
than not, the meaning and operational value of concepts of memory in
general and cultural memory in particular differ between diverse disci-
plines, disparate academic cultures, and different historical periods. With
the move towards greater interdisciplinarity, the exchange of such con-
cepts has considerably intensified. Through constant appropriation,
translation, and reassessment across various fields, concepts of cultural
memory have acquired new meanings, opening up new horizons of re-
search in the humanities as well as in the social and in the natural sciences.
To the extent that their meaning must, therefore, be constantly renegoti-
ated, a sustained enquiry into these concepts and a survey of the latest
research in cultural memory studies can foster a self-reflexive approach to
this burgeoning and increasingly diverse field, providing a theoretical,
conceptual, and methodological backbone for any project concerned with
questions of cultural memory.
The aim of this handbook is to offer the first truly integrated survey
of this interdisciplinary and international field of cultural memory studies.
The concise presentation of the main concepts of cultural memory studies
is intended not only to offer readers a unique overview of current research
in the field; it is also meant to serve as a forum for bringing together ap-
proaches from areas as varied as neurosciences and literary history, thus
adding further contour and depth to this emergent field of study.
Our debts are many, and it is a great pleasure to acknowledge them. Our
thanks go, first of all, to the many individual authors who contributed to
our handbook. It was a wonderful experience to collaborate on this proj-
ect with researchers from numerous countries and disciplines. We are
grateful for their willingness to present their research in the admittedly
very concise format of this handbook and also for their great patience
during the production process. Moreover, we would like to thank Heiko
Hartmann and his colleagues at de Gruyter for their encouragement and
assistance in establishing the series Media and Cultural Memory.Four years
after the appearance of its first volume, this handbook represents the at-
tempt to chart the very field––international and interdisciplinary memory
studies––that this series is committed to exploring and further developing.
We are also very grateful to Anna-Lena Flügel, Meike Hölscher, and
Jan Rupp, who helped prepare the manuscript for publication. Many arti-
cles had to be translated into English, and we thank Anna-Lena Flügel for
her translation from French, Stephanie Wodianka for her counsel on all
things Italian, and Sara B. Young for providing all the translations from
German. To Sara go our most cordial thanks: Without her, this volume
would not exist. She did an absolutely excellent job, from the critical
reading and careful editing of the articles to her well-crafted translations
and skilled guidance in the overall language and style of the volume.
Wuppertal and Giessen, April 2008
Astrid Erll and Ansgar Nünning
Table of Contents
ASTRID ERLL: Cultural Memory Studies: An Introduction............................. 1
I. Lieux de mémoire–Sites of Memory
PIM DEN BOER: Loci memoriaeLieux de mémoire ............................................. 19
MARIO ISNENGHI: Italian luoghi della memoria.................................................... 27
JACQUES LE RIDER: Mitteleuropa as a lieu de mémoire.......................................... 37
UDO J. HEBEL: Sites of Memory in U.S.-American Histories
and Cultures ........................................................................................................ 47
JAY WINTER: Sites of Memory and the Shadow of War................................ 61
II. Memory and Cultural History
ALON CONFINO: Memory and the History of Mentalities ............................ 77
DIETRICH HARTH: The Invention of Cultural Memory................................. 85
ALEIDA ASSMANN: Canon and Archive............................................................ 97
JAN ASSMANN: Communicative and Cultural Memory................................109
JÜRGEN REULECKE: Generation/Generationality, Generativity, and
Perspective ........................................................................................................127
III. Social, Political, and Philosophical Memory Studies
Halbwachs’s mémoire collective...........................................................................141
JEFFREY K. OLICK: From Collective Memory to the Sociology of
Mnemonic Practices and Products................................................................151
ANDREAS LANGENOHL: Memory in Post-Authoritarian Societies .............163
ERIK MEYER: Memory and Politics ................................................................173
ELENA ESPOSITO: Social Forgetting: A Systems-Theory Approach..........181
SIEGFRIED J. SCHMIDT: Memory and Remembrance: A Constructivist
MAUREEN JUNKER-KENNY: Memory and Forgetting in Paul Ricœur’s
Theory of the Capable Self.............................................................................203
Table of Contents
IV. Psychological Memory Studies
JÜRGEN STRAUB: Psychology, Narrative, and Cultural Memory:
Past and Present ...............................................................................................215
Cultural Trauma ...............................................................................................229
Imaginary Futures in the Past ........................................................................241
Collective Memories ........................................................................................253
GERALD ECHTERHOFF: Language and Memory: Social and Cognitive
Processes ...........................................................................................................263
HANS J. MARKOWITSCH: Cultural Memory and the Neurosciences............275
HARALD WELZER: Communicative Memory.................................................285
V. Literature and Cultural Memory
RENATE LACHMANN: Mnemonic and Intertextual Aspects of Literature .301
HERBERT GRABES: Cultural Memory and the Literary Canon....................311
MAX SAUNDERS: Life-Writing, Cultural Memory, and Literary Studies ....321
BIRGIT NEUMANN: The Literary Representation of Memory .....................333
ANN RIGNEY: The Dynamics of Remembrance: Texts Between
Monumentality and Morphing.......................................................................345
VI. Media and Cultural Memory
JAMES E. YOUNG: The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials in
History ...............................................................................................................357
JENS RUCHATZ: The Photograph as Externalization and Trace.................367
BARBIE ZELIZER: Journalism’s Memory Work..............................................379
ASTRID ERLL: Literature, Film, and the Mediality of Cultural Memory....389
MARTIN ZIEROLD: Memory and Media Cultures..........................................399
Index of Names................................................................................................409
Index of Terms.................................................................................................423
Notes on Contributors....................................................................................427
Cultural Memory Studies: An Introduction
1. Towards a Conceptual Foundation for
Cultural Memory Studies
Over the past two decades, the relationship between culture and memory
has emerged in many parts of the world as a key issue of interdisciplinary
research, involving fields as diverse as history, sociology, art, literary and
media studies, philosophy, theology, psychology, and the neurosciences,
and thus bringing together the humanities, social studies, and the natural
sciences in a unique way. The importance of the notion of cultural mem-
ory is not only documented by the rapid growth, since the late 1980s, of
publications on specific national, social, religious, or family memories, but
also by a more recent trend, namely attempts to provide overviews of the
state of the art in this emerging field and to synthesize different research
traditions. Anthologies of theoretical texts, such as The Collective Memory
Reader (Olick et al.), as well as the launch of the new journal Memory Studies
testify to the need to bring focus to this broad discussion and to consider
the theoretical and methodological standards of a promising, but also as
yet incoherent and dispersed field (cf. Olick; Radstone; Erll). The present
handbook represents the shared effort of forty-one authors, all of whom
have contributed over the past years, from a variety of disciplinary per-
spectives, to the development of this nascent field, and it is part of the
effort to consolidate memory studies into a more coherent discipline. It is
a first step on the road towards a conceptual foundation for the kind of
memory studies which assumes a decidedly cultural and social perspective.
“Cultural” (or, if you will, “collective,” “social”) memory is certainly a
multifarious notion, a term often used in an ambiguous and vague way.
Media, practices, and structures as diverse as myth, monuments, historiog-
raphy, ritual, conversational remembering, configurations of cultural
knowledge, and neuronal networks are nowadays subsumed under this
wide umbrella term. Because of its intricacy, cultural memory has been a
highly controversial issue ever since its very conception in Maurice
Halbwachs’s studies on mémoire collective (esp. 1925, 1941, 1950). His con-
temporary Marc Bloch accused Halbwachs of simply transferring concepts
from individual psychology to the level of the collective, and even today
scholars continue to challenge the notion of collective or cultural memory,
claiming, for example, that since we have well-established concepts like
“myth,” “tradition,” and “individual memory,” there is no need for a
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further, and often misleading, addition to the existing repertoire (cf. Gedi
and Elam). What these criticisms overlook, of course, is that it is exactly
the umbrella quality of these relatively new usages of “memory” which
helps us see the (sometimes functional, sometimes analogical, sometimes
metaphorical) relationships between such phenomena as ancient myths
and the personal recollection of recent experience, and which enables
disciplines as varied as psychology, history, sociology, and literary studies
to engage in a stimulating dialogue.
This handbook is based on a broad understanding of cultural memory,
suggesting as a provisional definition “the interplay of present and past in
socio-cultural contexts.” Such an understanding of the term allows for an
inclusion of a broad spectrum of phenomena as possible objects of cul-
tural memory studies––ranging from individual acts of remembering in a
social context to group memory (of family, friends, veterans, etc.) to na-
tional memory with its “invented traditions,” and finally to the host of
transnational lieux de mémoire such as the Holocaust and 9/11. At the same
time, cultural memory studies is not restricted to the study of those ways
of making sense of the past which are intentional and performed through
narrative, and which go hand in hand with the construction of identities––
although this very nexus (intentional remembering, narrative, identity) has
certainly yielded the lion’s share of research in memory studies so far. The
field thus remains open for the exploration of unintentional and implicit
ways of cultural remembering (see Welzer, this volume) or of inherently
non-narrative, for example visual or bodily, forms of memory.
But if the range of themes and objects of memory studies is virtually
limitless (everything is, somehow, related to memory), then what makes
our new field distinct? With Alon Confino, I would argue that it is not the
infinite multitude of possible topics which characterizes cultural memory
studies, but instead its concepts: the specific ways of conceiving of themes
and of approaching objects. However, despite two decades of intensive
research, the design of a conceptual toolbox for cultural memory studies is
still at a fledgling stage, because (to quote Confino in this volume) mem-
ory studies is currently “more practiced than theorized”––and practiced, at
that, within an array of different disciplines and national academic cul-
tures, with their own vocabularies, methods, and traditions. What we need
is to take a survey of the concepts used in memory studies and, in doing
so, cross intellectual and linguistic boundaries.
Even a cursory look at the host of different terminologies which have
emerged from memory studies since Maurice Halbwachs will shed light on
the challenges faced by those who are searching for a conceptual founda-
tion for the field: mémoire collective/collective memory, cadres sociaux/social
frameworks of memory, social memory, mnemosyne, ars memoriae, loci et
Cultural Memory Studies: An Introduction
imagines, lieux de mémoire/sites of memory, invented traditions, myth, memo-
ria, heritage, commemoration, kulturelles Gedächtnis, communicative mem-
ory, generationality, postmemory. The list could go on.
What this wealth of existing concepts shows, first of all, is that cultural
memory is not the object of one single discipline, but a transdisciplinary
phenomenon. There is no such thing as a privileged standpoint or ap-
proach for memory research (for the systematic and historic reasons for
this, see sections 2 and 3 of this article). Cultural memory studies is a field
to which many disciplines contribute, using their specific methodologies
and perspectives. This makes for its terminological richness, but also for
its disjointedness. At the same time, it has been clear since its very incep-
tion that the study of cultural memory can only be successful if it is based
on cooperation among different disciplines. Cultural memory studies is
therefore not merely a multidisciplinary field, but fundamentally an inter-
disciplinary project. Many exciting forms of collaboration have already
been fostered. And indeed, the strongest and most striking studies in cul-
tural memory are based on interdisciplinary exchange––between media
studies and cultural history (J. Assmann; A. Assmann), history and sociol-
ogy (Olick), neuroscience and social psychology (Welzer; Markowitsch),
cognitive psychology and history (Manier and Hirst) or social psychology
and linguistics (Echterhoff; all this volume). An even more intensified
dialogue among disciplines will help uncover the manifold intersections of
memory and culture. This, however, requires a very sensitive handling of
terminology and a careful discrimination of the specific disciplinary uses
of certain concepts and of their literal, metaphorical, or metonymical im-
plications (see section 2).
2. Establishing the Framework: Dimensions, Levels, and
Modes of Cultural Memory
If we want to establish a framework for cultural memory studies, working
on concepts is inevitable. In the following I will propose some basic defi-
nitions and conceptual differentiations which may help to prevent misun-
derstanding and resolve some of the controversies which have been
sparked time and again within and about cultural memory studies.
(a) Dimensions of Culture and Memory: Material, Social, and Mental
Arguably the most important and by far most frequently used key concept
of cultural memory studies is the contentious term mémoire collective
(collective memory), which was brought into the discussion by Maurice
Halbwachs in the 1920s. Our choice of cultural memory” for the title of
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this handbook is due, in the first place, to the highly controversial nature
of Halbwachs’s term and the many wrong associations it seems to trigger
in those who are new to the field. Secondly, according to the definition
given above, the term cultural memory accentuates the connection of
memory on the one hand and socio-cultural contexts on the other. How-
ever, the term “cultural” does not designate a specific affinity to Cultural
Studies as conceived and practiced by the Birmingham School (although
this discipline has certainly contributed to cultural memory studies). Our
notion of culture is instead more rooted in the German tradition of the
study of cultures (Kulturwissenschaft) and in anthropology, where culture is
defined as a community’s specific way of life, led within its self-spun webs
of meaning (cf. Geertz).
According to anthropological and semiotic theories, culture can be
seen as a three-dimensional framework, comprising social (people, social
relations, institutions), material (artifacts and media), and mental aspects
(culturally defined ways of thinking, mentalities) (cf. Posner). Understood
in this way, cultural memory” can serve as an umbrella term which com-
prises social memory” (the starting point for memory research in the so-
cial sciences), material or medial memory (the focus of interest in literary
and media studies), and mental or cognitive memory (the field of expertise
in psychology and the neurosciences). This neat distinction is of course
merely a heuristic tool. In reality, all three dimensions are involved in the
making of cultural memories. Cultural memory studies is therefore char-
acterized by the transcending of boundaries. Some scholars look at the
interplay of material and social phenomena (for example, memorials and
the politics of memory; see Meyer); others scrutinize the intersections of
material and mental phenomena (as in the history of mentalities; see Con-
fino); still others study the relation of cognitive and social phenomena (as
in conversational remembering; see Middleton and Brown; all this vol-
(b) Levels of Memory: Individual and Collective
It is important to realize that the notions of “cultural” or “collective”
memory proceed from an operative metaphor. The concept of “remem-
bering” (a cognitive process which takes place in individual brains) is
metaphorically transferred to the level of culture. In this metaphorical
sense, scholars speak of a “nation’s memory,” a “religious community’s
memory,” or even of “literature’s memory” (which, according to Renate
Lachmann, is its intertextuality). This crucial distinction between two as-
pects of cultural memory studies is what Jeffrey K. Olick draws our atten-
tion to when he maintains that “two radically different concepts of culture
are involved here, one that sees culture as a subjective category of mean-
Cultural Memory Studies: An Introduction
ings contained in people’s minds versus one that sees culture as patterns
of publicly available symbols objectified in society” (336). In other words,
we have to differentiate between two levels on which culture and memory
intersect: the individual and the collective or, more precisely, the level of
the cognitive on the one hand, and the levels of the social and the medial
on the other.
The first level of cultural memory is concerned with biological mem-
ory. It draws attention to the fact that no memory is ever purely individ-
ual, but always inherently shaped by collective contexts. From the people
we live with and from the media we use, we acquire schemata which help
us recall the past and encode new experience. Our memories are often
triggered as well as shaped by external factors, ranging from conversation
among friends to books and to places. In short, we remember in socio-
cultural contexts. With regard to this first level, “memory” is used in a
literal sense, whereas the attribute “cultural” is a metonymy, standing for
the “socio-cultural contexts and their influence on memory.It is espe-
cially within oral history, social psychology, and the neurosciences that
cultural memory is understood according to this first aspect of the term.
The second level of cultural memory refers to the symbolic order, the
media, institutions, and practices by which social groups construct a
shared past. “Memory,” here, is used metaphorically. Societies do not
remember literally; but much of what is done to reconstruct a shared past
bears some resemblance to the processes of individual memory, such as
the selectivity and perspectivity inherent in the creation of versions of the
past according to present knowledge and needs. In cultural history and the
social sciences, much research has been done with regard to this second
aspect of collective memory, the most influential concepts to have
emerged being Pierre Nora’s lieux de mémoire and Jan and Aleida Ass-
mann’s kulturelles Gedächtnis.
The two forms of cultural memory can be distinguished from each
other on an analytical level; but in practice the cognitive and the so-
cial/medial continuously interact. There is no such thing as pre-cultural
individual memory; but neither is there a Collective or Cultural Memory
(with capital letters) which is detached from individuals and embodied
only in media and institutions. Just as socio-cultural contexts shape indi-
vidual memories, a “memory” which is represented by media and institu-
tions must be actualized by individuals, by members of a community of
remembrance, who may be conceived of as points de vue (Maurice
Halbwachs) on shared notions of the past. Without such actualizations,
monuments, rituals, and books are nothing but dead material, failing to
have any impact in societies.
Astrid Erll
As is always the case with metaphors, some features can be transferred
with a gain in insight, others cannot. The notion of cultural memory has
quite successfully directed our attention to the close connection that exists
between, say, a nation’s version of its past and its version of national
identity. That memory and identity are closely linked on the individual
level is a commonplace that goes back at least to John Locke, who main-
tained that there is no such thing as an essential identity, but that identities
have to be constructed and reconstructed by acts of memory, by remem-
bering who one was and by setting this past Self in relation to the present
Self. The concept of cultural memory has opened the way to studying
these processes at a collective level. More problematic is the migration of
concepts between the individual and social levels when it comes to trauma
studies. Wulf Kansteiner and Harald Weilnböck (this volume) show the
(ethical) pitfalls of attempting to conflate processes of the individual psy-
che with the medial and social representation of the past.
To sum up, cultural memory studies is decidedly concerned with so-
cial, medial, and cognitive processes, and their ceaseless interplay. In the
present volume, this fact is mirrored not only by the dedication of differ-
ent sections to (clusters of) different disciplines (history, social sciences,
psychology, literary and media studies) which have an expertise with re-
gard to one specific level of cultural memory, but also by the incorpora-
tion of as many approaches as possible which go beyond those bounda-
ries. Readers will therefore discover numerous cross-connections between
the paths taken in the individual parts of this book.
(c) Modes of Memory: The “How” of Remembering
The last distinction to be made in this introduction––that between differ-
ent modes of remembering––is one which aims to confront another
source of vehement dispute within and about memory studies. One of
Halbwachs’s less felicitous legacies is the opposition between history and
memory. Halbwachs conceives of the former as abstract, totalizing, and
“dead,” and of the latter as particular, meaningful, and “lived.” This po-
larity, itself a legacy of nineteenth-century historicism and its discontents,
was taken up and popularized by Pierre Nora, who also distinguishes po-
lemically between history and memory and positions his lieux de mémoire in
between. Studies on “history vs. memory” are usually loaded with emo-
tionally charged binary oppositions: good vs. bad, organic vs. artificial,
living vs. dead, from below vs. from above. And while the term “cultural
memory” is already a multifarious notion, it is often even less clear what is
meant with the collective singular of “history” (cf. Koselleck): Selective
and meaningful memory vs. the unintelligible totality of historical events?
Methodologically unregulated and identity-related memory vs. scientific,
Cultural Memory Studies: An Introduction
seemingly neutral and objective historiography? Authentic memory produced
within small communities vs. ideologically charged, official images of history?
Witnesses of the past vs. academic historians? The whole question of “his-
tory and/or/as memoryis simply not a very fruitful approach to cultural
representations of the past. It is a dead end in memory studies, and also
one of its “Achilles’ heels” (see Olick, this volume).
I would suggest dissolving the useless opposition of history vs. mem-
ory in favor of a notion of different modes of remembering in culture. This
approach proceeds from the basic insight that the past is not given, but
must instead continually be re-constructed and re-presented. Thus, our
memories (individual and collective) of past events can vary to a great
degree. This holds true not only for what is remembered (facts, data), but
also for how it is remembered, that is, for the quality and meaning the past
assumes. As a result, there are different modes of remembering identical
past events. A war, for example, can be remembered as a mythic event
(“the war as apocalypse”), as part of political history (the First World War
as “the great seminal catastrophe of the twentieth century”), as a traumatic
experience (“the horror of the trenches, the shells, the barrage of gunfire,”
etc.), as a part of family history (“the war my great-uncle served in”), as a
focus of bitter contestation (“the war which was waged by the old genera-
tion, by the fascists, by men”). Myth, religious memory, political history,
trauma, family remembrance, or generational memory are different modes
of referring to the past. Seen in this way, history is but yet another mode
of cultural memory, and historiography its specific medium. This is not at
all to lessen its importance or the merits of generations of historians. Since
the early nineteenth century, the historical method has developed into the
best-regulated and most reliable way of reconstructing the past (even
though its specific operations have been justifiably criticized by Foucault
and others, and may be complemented by other modes).
3. Genealogies and Branches of Cultural Memory Studies:
The Design of This Handbook
This handbook has a historic and systematic (or diachronic and syn-
chronic) layout. Although its main focus is on current research and con-
cepts of cultural memory studies, it also provides insights into the differ-
ent roots of the field. Whereas a history of thought about memory and
culture would have to go back to Plato, the beginnings of a modern no-
tion of cultural memory can be retraced to the late nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries (see Olick; Straub; Marcel and Mucchielli; all this vol-
ume). The present field of research is built on the emergence of a “new
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wave” of cultural memory studies since the 1980s (see Confino; Harth;
Fortunati and Lamberti; all this volume).
Maurice Halbwachs was the first to write explicitly and systematically
about cultural memory. If one reads through the essays of this volume,
there can be little doubt that his studies of mémoire collective have emerged
as the foundational texts of today’s memory studies––unequivocally ac-
cepted as such no matter what discipline or country the respective re-
searchers call home. Halbwachs not only coined the fundamental term
“collective memory”; his legacy to cultural memory studies is at least
threefold. Firstly, with his concept of cadres sociaux de la mémoire (social
frameworks of memory) he articulated the idea that individual memories
are inherently shaped and will often be triggered by socio-cultural con-
texts, or frameworks, thus already pointing to cultural schema theories and
the contextual approaches of psychology. Secondly, his study of family
memory and other private practices of remembering have been an impor-
tant influence for oral history. And thirdly, with his research on the mem-
ory of religious communities (in La topographie légendaire) he accentuated
topographical aspects of cultural memory, thus anticipating the notion of
lieux de mémoire, and he looked at communities whose memory reaches
back thousands of years, thus laying the foundation for Jan and Aleida
Assmann’s kulturelles Gedächtnis.
However, although Halbwachs’s work is rooted in French sociology,
memory studies was an international and transdisciplinary phenomenon
from the very beginning. Around 1900, scholars from different disciplines
and countries became interested in the intersections between culture and
memory: notably Sigmund Freud, Henri Bergson, Emile Durkheim, Mau-
rice Halbwachs, Aby Warburg, Arnold Zweig, Karl Mannheim, Frederick
Bartlett, and Walter Benjamin (see also Olick, this volume). Sometimes
those scholars critically referred to one anothers work (for example
Halbwachs to Durkheim, or Bloch and Bartlett to Halbwachs), yet more
often this early research remained unconnected. Early memory studies is
thus a typical example of an emergent phenomenon, cropping up at dif-
ferent places at roughly the same time––a process which would be re-
peated in the 1980s, with the “new memory studies.”
If Halbwachs is the best remembered founding father of memory
studies, then Aby Warburg is arguably the most forgotten one. The Ger-
man Jewish art historian was an early and energetic ambassador of the
interdisciplinary study of culture (cf. Gombrich). He famously pointed out
that researchers should stop policing disciplinary boundaries (grenzpo-
lizeiliche Befangenheit) in order to gain insight into processes of cultural
memory. Warburg––whose writings are more a quarry providing inspira-
tion for subsequent scholars than the source of clear-cut theoretical con-
Cultural Memory Studies: An Introduction
cepts––drew attention, moreover, to the mediality of memory. In a great
exhibition project called Mnemosyne (1924-28) he demonstrated how cer-
tain “pathos formulae” (Pathosformeln, symbols encoding emotional inten-
sity) migrated through different art works, periods, and countries.
Whereas the sociologist Halbwachs and the psychologist Frederick Bart-
lett (who popularized the notion of cultural schemata) laid the founda-
tions for cultural memory studies with a view to social and cognitive lev-
els, Warburg’s legacy to present-day research is to have given an example
of how cultural memory can be approached via the level of material ob-
The interest that the works by Halbwachs and others had sparked in a
small community of scholars dwindled away after the Second World War.
It was only in the 1980s (after the “death of history,” the narrative turn,
and the anthropological turn) that “collective memory,” first slowly and
then at breathtaking speed, developed into a buzzword not only in the
academic world, but also in the political arena, the mass media, and the
arts. The “new cultural memory studies” was, again, very much an emer-
gent phenomenon, taking shape more or less concurrently in many disci-
plines and countries. The 1980s saw the work of the French historian
Pierre Nora on national lieux de mémoire (see den Boer) and the publica-
tions of the German group of researchers around Jan and Aleida Ass-
mann, who focused on media and memory in ancient societies (see
Harth). In psychology, meanwhile, behavioral and purely cognitive para-
digms had been superseded by ecological approaches to human memory
and the study of conversational and narrative remembering (see Straub;
Middleton and Brown). Historical and political changes became a catalyst
for the new memory studies. Forty years after the Holocaust the genera-
tion that had witnessed the Shoah began to fade away. This effected a
major change in the forms of cultural remembrance. Without organic,
autobiographic memories, societies are solely dependent on media (such
as monuments; see Young) to transmit experience. Issues of trauma and
witnessing were not only discussed in the context of Holocaust studies,
but more and more also in gender studies and postcolonial studies (see
Kansteiner and Weilnböck). More recently, major transformations in
global politics, such as the breakdown of the communist states and other
authoritarian regimes, have brought new memory phenomena to the fore,
such as the issue of “transitional justice” (see Langenohl). More generally,
the shape of contemporary media societies gives rise to the assumption
that––today perhaps more than ever––cultural memory is dependent on
media technologies and the circulation of media products (see Esposito;
Rigney; Erll; Zelizer; Zierold; all this volume).
Astrid Erll
In keeping with the double focus of this handbook––on genealogies and
disciplinary branches––each of its six parts is concerned with historic and
systematic aspects of cultural memory studies. Part I is dedicated to the
one concept that has arguably proved most influential within the new,
international and interdisciplinary memory studies: Pierre Nora’s lieux de
mémoire, which he introduced in a multivolume work of the same name,
featuring French “sites of memory” (1984-92). The notion of lieux de mé-
moire quickly crossed national borders and was taken up in books about
sites of memory in Italy, Germany, Canada, Central Europe, and the
United States. The ubiquity of the term cannot belie the fact, however,
that the lieu de mémoire is still one of the most inchoate and undertheorized
concepts of cultural memory studies. On the one hand it lends itself par-
ticularly well to the study of a wide array of phenomena (from “places” in
the literal sense to medial representations, rituals, and shared beliefs), but
it is precisely because of its sheer limitless extension that the term has
remained conceptually amorphous, and it would be well worth initiating
another round of scholarly scrutiny (cf. Rigney). In this volume, Pim den
Boer traces the roots of the lieu metaphor back to the ancient art of mem-
ory, its founding myth about Simonides of Ceos, and the method of loci
and imagines (places and images) as we find it described in the rhetorics of
Cicero and Quintilian. He uncovers the French specificité of Noras con-
cept, comments on its translatability, and considers the prospects for a
comparative study of lieux de mémoire. Some elements of such a compara-
tive perspective on sites of memory are provided by the following articles:
Mario Isnenghi gives an insight into Italian luoghi della memoria; Jacques Le
Rider writes about Mitteleuropa (Central Europe) as a site of memory; Udo
J. Hebel distinguishes literary, visual, performative, material, virtual, and
transnational memory sites of the United States; and Jay Winter provides a
comparative view of the sites that commemorate twentieth-century wars.
Part II presents memory research rooted in cultural history. Alon
Confino reveals the intellectual and methodological affiliations between
memory studies and the history of mentalities, reaching back to the fathers
of the Annales school, Lucien Febvre and Marc Bloch, and shows how
Pierre Nora’s lieux de mémoire emerged from this tradition. He then takes a
critical look at present-day memory studies and the chances and pitfalls it
offers to historians. The next three articles form a unity in many ways, not
surprisingly, as they are written by members of the interdisciplinary, Hei-
delberg-based group of scholars who have been working on cultural
memory since the 1980s. Dietrich Harth reconstructs the “invention of
cultural memory” in this research context; Jan and Aleida Assmann pre-
sent some of their eminently influential concepts, among them, for exam-
ple, the distinction between “cultural” and “communicative” memory and
Cultural Memory Studies: An Introduction
between “canon” and “archive.” Jürgen Reulecke delineates recent ap-
proaches to generational memory, which also have their source in the
1920s: Karl Mannheim’s writings belong to the foundational texts of cul-
tural memory studies, since memory within and between generations is a
significant form of collective remembering. With the development of
terms such as “generationality” and “generativity,” his legacy has been
updated. Vita Fortunati and Elena Lamberti complete this second part of
the volume not only by giving a comprehensive overview of the wide
array of concepts, but also by providing an insight into the actual practice
of international and interdisciplinary cultural memory studies as carried
out within the European thematic network ACUME.
Part III directs attention towards the different kinds of memory stud-
ies that have emerged in philosophy and the social sciences. Here, again,
the history of memory studies and its protagonist Maurice Halbwachs get
their due: Jean-Christophe Marcel and Laurent Mucchielli provide an in-
troduction to Maurice Halbwachs’s works on mémoire collective as a “unique
type of phenomenological sociology.” Jeffrey K. Olick then delineates in a
grand sweep the development from Halbwachs’s beginnings to the current
“sociology of mnemonic practices and products.” The articles by Andreas
Langenohl and Erik Meyer address specific social, political, and ethical
questions which have arisen out of contemporary memory politics.
Langenohl provides an overview of forms of remembrance in post-au-
thoritarian societies and elaborates on the issue of transitional justice;
Meyer develops a policy studies perspective on cultural memory. The
articles by Elena Esposito and Siegfried J. Schmidt represent the contri-
butions of systems theory and radical constructivism to cultural memory
studies. Esposito theorizes the powerful other side of cultural memory,
namely social forgetting. This part ends with Maureen Junker-Kennys
critical recapitulation of the philosophical and hermeneutical perspective
on memory, forgetting, and forgiving that was introduced by Paul Ricœur.
The inclusion of psychological concepts in part IV provides a bridge
from memory studies in the humanities and the social sciences to the
natural sciences. Representatives of different disciplines (including the
neurosciences; psychotherapy; and narrative, social, and cognitive psy-
chology) provide insights into their work on cultural memory. An histori-
cal perspective is assumed by Jürgen Straub, who traces the genealogy of
psychological memory studies back to the late nineteenth century and
charts the history of narrative psychology, up to and including its current
state. Wulf Kansteiner and Harald Weilnböck take a strong stand “against
the concept of cultural trauma.” From a psychotherapy studies perspective
they reconstruct and criticize the various uses and abuses of the concept
of trauma in cultural memory studies. David Middleton and Steven D.
Astrid Erll
Brown introduce their work on conversational remembering and stress
the important connection between experience and memory. David Manier
and William Hirst outline what they call a “cognitive taxonomy of collec-
tive memories,” thus showing how group memories are represented in
individual minds. Gerald Echterhoff presents new interdisciplinary re-
search on the relation of language and memory, which lies at the very
basis of cultural memory. Hans J. Markowitsch provides an introduction
to memory research in the neurosciences and discusses how the social
world shapes the individual brain. Harald Welzer rounds off this part of
the volume by presenting the key concepts of his inherently interdiscipli-
nary research, which spans the field from oral history to social psychology
and to the neurosciences.
Parts V and VI move on to the material and medial dimension of
cultural memory. The articles in part V represent the main concepts of
memory found in literary studies (cf. Erll and Nünning). Renate
Lachmann shows how the ancient method of loci imagines is linked to liter-
ary imagination and describes her influential notion of intertextuality as
the “memory of literature.With Herbert Grabes’s article on the literary
canon, the perspective on literature and memory moves from relations
between texts to the level of the social systems which select and evaluate
literary works. Max Saunders’s article on “life-writing” is concerned with
those literary works which are most obviously connected to cultural
memory: letters, diaries, biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, etc. How-
ever, he also shows that life-writing extends beyond these genres and that
individual and cultural memory can indeed be found in most literary texts.
Birgit Neumann provides an overview of how memory is represented in
literature, using a narratological approach to describe the forms and func-
tions of a “mimesis of memory.” Ann Rigney stresses the active and vital
role that literature plays as a medium in the production of cultural mem-
ory. She understands memory as a dynamic process (rather than a static
entity), in which fictional narratives can fulfill an array of different func-
tions––as “relay stations,” “stabilizers,” “catalysts,” “objects of recollec-
tion,” or “calibrators.”
With its focus on mediality and memory, Ann Rigney’s article already
points to the last part of the volume, which is concerned with the role of
memory in media cultures. Here more than ever disciplines converge.
Scholars from literary studies, history, media studies, journalism, and
communication studies introduce their views on a set of questions which
has emerged as one of the most basic concerns and greatest challenges of
memory studies: the intersections between media and cultural memory
(which, of course, also give this series its title). Cultural memory hinges on
the notion of the medial, because it is only via medial externalization
Cultural Memory Studies: An Introduction
(from oral speech to writing, painting, or using the Internet) that individ-
ual memories, cultural knowledge, and versions of history can be shared.
It is therefore no accident that many articles which have made their ap-
pearance in earlier parts of this volume could just as easily have been in-
cluded in the media section. This certainly holds true for the entire section
on literature, which can be viewed as one medium of cultural memory.
Many other articles of this volume, such as those written by Udo J. Hebel,
Jan Assmann, Aleida Assmann, Siegfried J. Schmidt, Elena Esposito, Ge-
rald Echterhoff, and Harald Welzer, are characterized by their strong me-
dia perspective––ranging from medial sites of memory to the role of
communication technologies for social forgetting and to language as a
basic medium of memory.
Part VI begins with a contribution by James E. Young on what is ar-
guably one of the most important artistic media of cultural memory––and
its most intricate: the Holocaust memorial. Jens Ruchatz scrutinizes the
double role of photography as medial externalization of memory and trace
of the past. Barbie Zelizer writes about the connection between journal-
ism and memory, identifying journalism, despite its strong emphasis on
the present, as a memorial practice. I look at literature and film as media
of cultural memory. Martin Zierold concludes this volume with a more
general perspective on how memory studies might develop its focus on
media cultures.
We hope that in bringing together many different voices from inter-
disciplinary and international memory studies and providing an overview
of its history and key concepts, we will be able to give some definition to
an emerging field. Most importantly, the aim of this volume is to inspire
further sophisticated and exciting research by addressing scholars who are
as fascinated by the possibilities of “thinking memory” as we are.
I would like to thank Ann Rigney for her critical reading and constructive
comments on an earlier version of this introduction.
Assmann, Jan. Das kulturelle Gedächtnis: Schrift, Erinnerung und politische Iden-
tität in frühen Hochkulturen. Munich: Beck, 1992.
Bartlett, F. C. Remembering: A Study in Experimental and Social Psychology.
Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1932.
Astrid Erll
Bloch, Marc. “Memoire collective, tradition et coutume: a propos d’un
livre recent.” Revue de Synthése Historique 40 (1925): 73-83.
Confino, Alon. “Collective Memory and Cultural History: Problems of
Method.” American Historical Review 105.2 (1997): 1386-403.
Erll, Astrid. Kollektives Gedächtnis und Erinnerungskulturen: Eine Einführung.
Stuttgart: Metzler, 2005.
Erll, Astrid and Ansgar Nünning, eds. (In collaboration with Hanne Birk,
Birgit Neumann and Patrick Schmidt. Medien des kollektiven
Gedächtnisses: Konstruktivität—Historizität—Kulturspezifität. Berlin: de
Gruyter, 2004.
––., and Ansgar Nünning, eds. Gedächtniskonzepte der Literaturwissen-
schaft: Theoretische Grundlegung und Anwendungsperspektiven.
Berlin: de Gruyter, 2005.
––. “Where Literature and Memory Meet: Towards a Systematic
Approach to the Concepts of Memory in Literary Studies.” Literature,
Literary History, and Cultural Memory. REAL: Yearbook of Research in
English and American Literature 21. Ed. Herbert Grabes. Tübingen:
Narr, 2005. 265-98.
François, Etienne, and Hagen Schulze, eds. Deutsche Erinnerungsorte. 3 vols.
Munich: Beck, 2001.
Gedi, Noa, and Yigal Elam. “Collective Memory: What Is It?” History and
Memory 8.1 (1996): 30-50.
Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. London: Hut-
chinson, 1973.
Gombrich, Ernst H. Aby Warburg: An Intellectual Biography. London: War-
burg Institute, 1970.
Halbwachs, Maurice. Les cadres sociaux de la mémoire. Paris: Alcan, 1925.
––. On Collective Memory. Ed. and trans. Lewis A. Coser. Chicago: U of
Chicago P, 1992.
––. La mémoire collective. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1950.
––. La topographie légendaire des évangiles en terre sainte: Etude de mémoire collective.
Paris: Alcan, 1941.
Koselleck, Reinhart. Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time. Trans.
Keith Tribe. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1985.
Memory Studies. Andrew Hoskins, principal ed. Los Angeles: Sage, since
Nora, Pierre, ed. Les lieux de mémoire. 3 vols. Paris: Gallimard, 1984-92.
Olick, Jeffrey K. “Collective Memory: The Two Cultures.” Sociological The-
ory 17.3 (1999): 333-48.
Olick, Jeffrey K., Vered Vinitzky-Seroussi, and Daniel Levy, eds. The Col-
lective Memory Reader. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008 (forthcoming).
Cultural Memory Studies: An Introduction
Posner, Roland. “What is Culture? Toward a Semiotic Explication of An-
thropological Concepts.” The Nature of Culture. Ed. W. A. Koch. Bo-
chum: Brockmeyer, 1989. 240-95.
Radstone, Susannah, ed. Memory and Methodology. Oxford: Berg, 2000.
Rigney, Ann. “Plenitude, Scarcity and the Circulation of Cultural Mem-
ory.” Journal of European Studies 35.1-2 (2005): 209-26.
I. Lieux de mémoire–Sites of Memory
Loci memoriaeLieux de mémoire
1. Cicero and Quintilian: Loci memoriae
Centuries ago a Greek poet, Simonides of Ceos, was witness to a terrible
accident. The roof of the dining hall of the house of a wealthy man, Sco-
pas in Crannon in Thessaly, collapsed and caused the death of everybody
present in the hall. Simonides, who had left the hall for a moment, was the
only survivor. It was not possible to identify the completely mutilated
bodies. However, when asked by the mourning relatives, Simonides was
able to identify the dead because he remembered who had been seated
where just before the accident happened. Simonides thus realized the
importance of localization for memory and discovered the importance of
“places” for good memory. This Greek story about the invention of
mnemotechnics circulated widely and was transmitted in Latin treatises on
Cicero (first century BC) mentioned Simonides’s discovery (or that of
“some other person,” as he cautiously added), in his famous De Oratore:
The best aid to clearness of memory consists in orderly arrangement […].
[P]ersons desiring to train this faculty select localities [loci] and form mental im-
ages of the facts they wish to remember and store those images in the localities,
with the result that the arrangement of the localities will preserve the order of the
facts, and the images of the facts will designate the facts themselves […].
Then Cicero makes the oft-quoted comparison that we should “employ
the localities and images respectively as a wax writing tablet and the letters
written on it” (2.86.354). According to Cicero “the keenest of all our
senses is the sense of sight […]” (2.87.357), and consequently what the ear
hears and the intellect conceives is best preserved if the eyes help to keep
it in your head. In this way the invisible takes shape in a concrete
appearance. About the loci memoriae Cicero writes that it is well known that
“one must employ a large number of localities which must be clear and
defined and at moderate intervals apart, and images that are effective and
sharply outlined and distinctive, with the capacity of encountering and
speedily penetrating the mind” (2.87.358).
In the elaborated Rhetorica ad Herennium attributed to Cicero and often
printed together with other works by him, but actually written by an
anonymous, less brilliant author, one finds a more detailed description of
Pim den Boer
loci memoriae. A distinction is made between two kinds of memory, one
natural, the other artificial:
The natural memory is that memory which is imbedded in our minds, born si-
multaneously with thought. The artificial memory is that memory which is
strengthened by a kind of training and system of discipline. (16.28) The artificial
memory includes backgrounds [loci] and images. We can grasp […,] for example,
a house, an intercolumnar space, a recess, an arch or the like. (16.29) And that we
may by no chance err in the number of backgrounds, each fifth background
should be marked. For example, [if] in the fifth we should set a golden hand [...],
it will then be easy to station like marks in each successive fifth background.
All this seems to be mnemotechnical common knowledge in an age before
the printing press. The most influential textbook on rhetoric was
composed by Quintilian (first century AD). His Institutio Oratoria is very
[I]t is an assistance to the memory if localities are sharply impressed upon the
mind, a view the truth of which everyone may realise by practical experiment. For
when we return to a place after considerable absence, we not merely recognise
the place itself but remember things that we did there, and recall the persons
whom we met and even the unuttered thoughts which passed through our minds
when we were there before. […] Some place is chosen of the largest possible ex-
tent and characterised by the utmost possible variety, such as a spacious house
divided into a number of rooms. (vol. 4, bk. 11, 2.17-18) The first thought is
placed, as it were, in the forecourt; the second, let us say, in the living-room; the
remainder are placed in due order all around the impluvium and entrusted not
merely to bedrooms and parlours, but even to the care of statues and the like.
This done, as soon as the memory of the facts requires to be revived, all these
places are visited in turn […]. (vol. 4, bk. 11, 2.20)
As a good teacher Quintilian warns his audience not to overestimate the
usefulness of the loci memoriae: “Such a practice may perhaps have been of
use to those who, after an auction, have succeeded in stating what object
they have sold to each buyer, their statements being checked by the books
of the money-takers […]” (vol. 4, bk. 11, 2.24). However, loci memoriae are
“of less service in learning […], [f]or thoughts do not call up the same
images as material things” (vol 4, bk. 11, 2.24). Quintilian warns several
times that it is impossible to represent certain things by symbols (vol. 4,
bk. 11, 2.25).
2. Pierre Nora: Lieux de mémoire and National Identity
After the loci memoriae according to Cicero and Quintilian come the lieux de
mémoire according to Nora. Collective memory, although a vague and am-
bivalent concept, is perhaps as fruitful and strategic for the innovation of
Loci memoriaeLieux de mémoire
historical research as the concept of mentality was thirty years earlier, as
Nora remarked in his contribution to the French encyclopedia of La Nou-
velle Histoire (La mémoire collective 401). In the lieux de mémoire project
which started in 1977 with his inaugural seminar at the École des Hautes
Études en Sciences Sociales, Nora has given the concept of lieux de mémoire not
only a new meaning but also a highly successful programmatic signifi-
For the ancients, the loci memoriae were a necessary mnemotechnics in a
society without modern media (see also J. Assmann, this volume). For
Cicero and Quintilian the loci memoriae were practical mental tools, free of
ideology. Loci memoriae were not determined by social values, by historical
views, or future expectations. Nora’s lieux de mémoire are also mnemotech-
nical devices, but extremely ideological, full of nationalism, and far from
being neutral or free of value judgments. Most lieux de mémoire were cre-
ated, invented, or reworked to serve the nation-state. Lieux de mémoire were
primarily part of the identity politics of the French nation and functioned
to imprint the key notions of national history on the outillage mental (“set of
mental tools”) of the French citizens.
In his 1984 introduction to the first volume, Pierre Nora was very
clear. Convinced by the perspective of a future European integration,
Nora put forward without any ambiguity the necessity of inventorying the
French lieux de mémoire: “The rapid disappearance of our national memory
seemed to me to call for an inventory of the sites where it [the national
memory] was selectively incarnated. Through human willpower and the
work of centuries, these sites have become striking symbols: celebrations,
emblems, monuments, and commemorations, but also speeches, archives,
dictionaries, and museums” (“Présentation” vii).
3. French “specificité”: Republican Universalism
In his conclusion Nora is also very clear about the special position of
France. Nora seems to be convinced that there is a French specificité, a kind
of French Sonderweg compared to the English monarchy and the German
Empire. “The Republic distinguishes itself [from them] through an pro-
found investment in and the systematic construction of memory which is
simultaneously authoritarian, unified, exclusive, universal, and intensely
historical” (“De la République” 652).
However, if one looks more closely, it seems that the French Republic
is only different in one—very important—respect: universalism. The
British and German lieux de mémoiresymbols, handbooks, dictionaries,
monuments, commemorations, and expositions—were also authoritarian,
Pim den Boer
unifying, exclusive, and intensely historical. The crucial element that is
lacking in the British and German political regimes is this universalism,
crystallized in the French Revolution and codified in the Declaration of
the Rights of Man and Citizen. This universalism is typical for French
republicanism and also marks the difference between the two French
monarchies and the two French empires in that turbulent nineteenth
century. These non-republican French regimes were as authoritarian, uni-
fied, exclusive, and historically orientated as the British and German Em-
pires were.
4. Translating lieux de mémoire
Nora’s project has been very successful and comparable projects and
studies on national lieux de mémoire were recently published in Germany,
Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands, and other countries will soon follow
(see also Isnenghi; Hebel; and Le Rider; all this volume). Impressed by the
success of this kind of historical approach easily accessible for a large
audience, publishers in different countries are commissioning multi-vol-
ume series of essays on the lieux de mémoire of their respective nations.
The translation of the concept of lieux de mémoire does not pose fun-
damental problems in several European languages, such as Spanish and
Italian, but in less Romanized European languages a fitting translation is
less evident. In the English translation of the ancient rhetorical treatises in
Latin, loci memoriae was translated asthe backgrounds of memory. The
modern French concept is often translated by the more concrete expres-
sion “sites of memory.” If the concept lieux de mémoire is used on a more
abstract level a different translation in English is necessary.
In German not only the spatial designation in this context but also the
term “memory” is not so easily translatable (see also Harth, this volume).
The successful German series is entitled Erinnerungsorte. In his essay in the
German series, Nora himself wrestles with the proper translation of lieux
and uses Herde (centers), Knoten (knots), Kreuzungen (crossings), and even
Erinnerungsbojen (buoys) (François and Schulze 3: 685). If a marine meta-
phor is chosen, perhaps “anchor” would have been more appropriate than
“buoy.” But even more problematic is the translation of “memory” with
Erinnerung. This forceful modern German word—erinneren, “to internal-
ize,” from an older word inneren—has a didactical connotation and can
even mean “to learn” or “to teach.” Martin Luther, for example, used
erinneren frequently in his Bible translation.
In each language a proper translation will pose different problems of
translation which can be related to conceptual history. For example, in
Loci memoriaeLieux de mémoire
sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Flemish and Dutch, the German ne-
ologism erinneren was not yet accepted. Although translated in Latin as
revocare in memoriam, it was considered to be dialect from the eastern prov-
inces (Kiliaan 112). In the seventeenth-century authoritative Dutch Bible
translation (h)erinneren was never used. Even in the beginning of the eight-
eenth century it was considered a Germanism (see Sewel 129). In Dutch,
memorie was a common word, as was the old Dutch word geheugen. Due to
the growing influence of the German language on Dutch in the nineteenth
century, the word herinnering became a common Dutch word and lost its
original Germanic flavor. In contemporary Dutch speech, memorie is not
frequently used anymore and has a solemn, old-fashioned connotation.
Thus, the Dutch project of four substantial volumes was appropriately
entitled Plaatsen van herinnering (Wesseling et al.).
Lieux de mémoire is not a transnational term such as, for example, de-
mocracy. The translation problems are not just a matter of definition. In a
comparative historical European perspective the positivistic reification of
the concept of lieux de mémoire has to be avoided and an awareness of lin-
guistic conceptual differences taken into prominent consideration.
5. Comparing lieux de mémoire
The next challenge will be to compare lieux de mémoire in different coun-
tries (den Boer and Frijhoff). Given the general European context of na-
tion-building one may expect that the international structural similarities
will be more evident than the national dissimilarities (see also Fortunati
and Lamberti, this volume).
The comparative approach has two advantages. Firstly, national his-
tory will be enriched by understanding how the history of one’s own na-
tion is embedded in European and global history. A nation is never quar-
antined, but in a large degree determined by transnational context.
Secondly, comparative research will open up transnational perspectives on
the European lieux de mémoire. Christianity, humanism, enlightenment, and
scientific development are crucial elements in European cultural history
and offer a rich number of significant transnational lieux de mémoire such as
the ora et labora of the Regula Benedicti, the Imitatio Christi of Thomas à
Kempis, the dignitas humanum of Pico della Mirandola, the trial of Galileo
Galilei, Spinoza’s Ethics, Newton’s apple, Linnaeus’s taxonomy, Ranke’s
historical seminar, Pasteur’s vaccine, Einstein’s theory of relativity, or
Niels Bohr’s quantum mechanics, to name a few (cf. Nora, “La notion”).
As lieux de mémoire of political European history one cannot pass over
the Congress of Vienna, the peace of Versailles and Saint Germain, or the
Pim den Boer
defeat of Hitler’s Third Reich and the creation of an Iron Curtain. At the
heyday of European nationalism, during the first half of the twentieth
century, Verdun and Auschwitz present the most terrible lieux de mémoire.
It is remarkable to observe that even long before the disastrous out-
come of nationalist rivalry and the terrible experiences of two European
wars, Ernest Renan had already traced a transnational perspective. In a
famous lecture about the question of what a nation is, delivered a decade
after the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), which intensified the process
of nation-building considerably, Renan prophesied: The nations are not
something eternal. They had their beginnings and they will end. A Euro-
pean confederation will very probably replace them. But such is not the
law of the century in which we are living. At the present time, the exis-
tence of nations is a good thing, a necessity even” (53).
European nation-building has developed during successive periods of
violent military confrontations and peaceful episodes of flourishing com-
merce. No European nation ever witnessed splendid isolation or any sort
of quarantine. Nonetheless, to this day history teaching is still, generally
speaking, dominated by the perspective of the nation-state. National his-
tory is often misunderstood and even occasionally disfigured by nine-
teenth-century national prejudice. For the Middle Ages and the early mod-
ern period, the national perspective is an anachronism that makes no
sense. The comparative study of lieux de mémoire can help to analyze the
topography of nineteenth-century national identity politics, an even more
important task in the face of attempts to create “national canons” (see
also the articles by A. Assmann and Grabes, this volume).
Contemporary Europe urgently needs a kind of transnational identity
politics. In order to instruct their young citizens, European countries need
teachers with at least a degree of knowledge, affection, and sympathy for
Europe. After the lieux de mémoire of the nations, the future of Europe
requires a new kind of loci memoriae: not as mnemotechnical tools to iden-
tify the mutilated corpses, not as devices of national identity politics, but
to learn how to understand, to forgive, and to forget (see also Junker-
Kenny, this volume).
Cicero. On the Orator, Books I-II. Trans. E. W. Sutton and H. Rackham.
Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1967.
[Cicero.] Ad. C. Herennium Libri IV de Ratione Dicendi (Rhetorica ad Heren-
nium). Trans. Harry Caplan. London: Heinemann, 1954.
Loci memoriaeLieux de mémoire
den Boer, Pim, and Willem Frijhoff, eds. Lieux de mémoire et identités nation-
ales. Amsterdam: Amsterdam UP, 1993.
François, Etienne, and Hagen Schulze, eds. Deutsche Erinnerungsorte. 3 vols.
Munich: Beck, 2001.
Kiliaan, Cornelius. Etymologicum teutonicae linguae: sive dictionarium Teutonico-
Latinum. Antwerp: Plantijn-Moret, 1599.
Nora, Pierre. “Entre mémoire et histoire: La problématique des lieux.” Les
lieux de mémoire I: La République. Ed. Pierre Nora. Paris: Gallimard,
1984. xv-xlii.
––. “La mémoire collective.” La Nouvelle Histoire. Ed. Jacques Le Goff.
Paris: Retz, 1978. 398-401.
––. “La notion de lieu de mémoire est-elle exportable?” Lieux de mémoire et
identités nationales. Eds. Pim den Boer and Willem Frijhoff. Amsterdam:
Amsterdam UP, 1993. 3-10.
––. “Présentation.” Les lieux de mémoire I: La République. Ed. Pierre Nora.
Paris: Gallimard, 1984. vii-xiii.
––. “De la République à la Nation.” Les lieux de mémoire I: La République.
Ed. Pierre Nora. Paris: Gallimard, 1984. 651-59.
Quintilian. The Institutio Oratoria of Quintilian. Vol. 4. Trans. H. E. Butler.
London: Heinemann, 1961.
Renan, Ernest. “What Is a Nation?” Becoming National: A Reader. Eds.
Geoff Eley and Ronald Grigor Suny. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996. 41-
55. Trans. of “Qu’est-ce qu’une nation?” 1882. Oeuvres complètes d’Ernest
Renan. Ed. Henriëtte Psichari. Vol. 1. Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1947. 887-
Sewel, Willem. Nederduytsche spraakkonst. Amsterdam: Erven J. Lescailje,
Wesseling, H. L., et al., eds. Plaatsen van herinnering. 4 vols. Amsterdam:
Bakker, 2005-07.
Italian luoghi della memoria
Writing on “sites of memory” in a united Italy is set against a background
of disunited factors and developments. Disunity is a constituent element of
events, memory, and narrative.
1. From Country to State
The peninsula’s great past was the original symbolic heritage through
which the dawning Nation Italy took its initial form, developed as both
consciousness and a project of common space, between the end of the
eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century. For centuries
already, what other nations had seen and encountered was the past, but
the past of a “land of ruins” peopled by a resigned “population of the
dead.” Establishing the new Nation was a matter of referring to this past
from a different viewpoint. Two thousand years before, the secondary
peoples of the peninsula had been unified by Rome; a few centuries be-
fore unification, between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, there had
been a flowering of arts and culture, yet that Italy of city-states and do-
minions was divided politically and militarily while Europe experienced
the growth of great absolute monarchies. This spelled both pre-eminence
and impediment. The Risorgimento was born from this premise: Italy is—or
rather will be, will return to being—because it was; it was founded on the
memory of having been, and having been great—compared to its present
lowliness. The Nation and the national State were thus conceived, estab-
lishing and legitimating themselves as a great regenerative process founded
on, and made of, memory. The intellectuals and politicians who solicited
this reawakening took on a maieutic role, seeking an eclipsed collective
The time invested in laying the foundations spans the first seventy
years of the nineteenth century, ideally framed by two great literary works
expressing the predominant character of the literature and the men of
letters who “invented” Italy: I Sepolcri (The Sepulchres) (1807) by Ugo
Foscolo, the first in a series of poet-prophets and heralds of the nation,
and Storia della letteratura italiana (History of Italian Literature) (1871) by
Francesco De Sanctis, critic and minister, a major summing up of identity,
completed as Italy’s church towers—for the occasion risen to the status of
civic towers, no longer controlled by mourning priests, but rather by cele-
Mario Isnenghi
brating laymen (Sanga)—rang out the conquest of Rome, thereby com-
pleting unification (De Sanctis himself recorded this). Putting the seal on
this cycle we should add that in the very same year, 1871, Foscolo’s re-
mains were moved to Santa Croce, the temple of great Italians that the
poet had postulated in his work in 1807.
“Oh Italians, I urge you to history,” Foscolo proclaimed, opening his
courses at the University of Pavia (1809), courses that undermined the
regulations and mental landscapes, the traditional identity of subjects ral-
lied to citizenship; the foreign governors soon saw the need to censure
him. Foscolo was born of a Venetian father and a Greek mother, on Za-
kynthos, an island in the Ionian Sea, a modern Ithaca for a new Odyssean
quest for a denied fatherland. Thus he had three homelands: Zakynthos,
Venice, and Italy. His birth granted his poetic fantasy both classical and
romantic analogies and empathies with Greece and Italy: the great civili-
zations of the past now fallen low, appealing to history from the nine-
teenth century, recruiting idealists and volunteers in sentiment and action.
The move to Venice exposed the poet-citizen to further losses and depri-
vations, at the hands both of France, head of thenew order, and Aus-
tria, head of the ancien regime. Foscolo took on the role of exile, exiled
from both his small and large homelands; this separation allowed him to
associate them in memory and nostalgia, as rarely occurs unless fate con-
signs one to some painful, though fertile, “elsewhere.” But living outside
of Italy, and making it real through thought and dream, was normal for
the eighteenth-century Italian patriot. This was the fate of Giuseppe
Mazzini (Ridolfi): protagonist and father of the nation; author of the triple
motto “Unity, Independence, Republic”; a leading force in the first Italian
political party, Giovane Italia (Young Italy), in 1831; and an exile in life
and death, even though he died in Italy (1872), spurned by the victorious
monarchy, defeated, but not broken, living under an alias, almost like an
ordinary English Mr. Brown. The Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont of the
centuries-old Savoy dynasty became the guiding state. It achieved domi-
nance over the national movement, either confining the democrats of the
Partito d’Azione (Action Party) to opposition or subordinating them to
moderate monarchical initiatives, and became—when it intercepted the
political diaspora from Italy to England, France, and Switzerland—itself
the land of exile for several thousand refugees during the 1850s. In Turin
they re-elaborated their deluded post-1848 revolutionary aspirations and
the memory of their respective homelands (Tobia).
Foscolo’s personal experience—from “Greek” to Venetian and from
Venetian to Italian—is replicated by Ippolito Nievo in Confessioni d’un
Italiano (Confessions of an Italian; Eng. trans. The Castle of Fratta), thus
becoming the narrative path of a historical and formative novel and
Italian luoghi della memoria
forming the nation, national consciousness, and citizenship in a broader
than municipal context. Nievo was a great young writer who died prema-
turely at the age of thirty (he was one of the Garibaldi Thousand), just
after having completed narrating and elaborating the entire historical cycle
he had experienced. Here, too, the narrative process, in this case that of an
eighty-year-old man who had experienced and describes the period of the
Risorgimento, represents and politically welcomes a territorial and mental
passage from small to large—in this case from Venetian to Italian. Reality
showed this process of deconstructing and reconstructing old separate
identities within a new unity to be more difficult and time consuming than
in its literary depiction.
Looking towards the past to lay the foundations of Italy as a country
(cf. Romano) involved not only dealing with municipalism as a permanent
factor of disunity, the negative side of civitas and municipal energy, but
also the geographic and mental centrality of the Roman Catholic church,
already identified by Machiavelli in The Prince (1513) as the most powerful
and structured anti-unity barrier. A third great divide was itself the fruit of
the very process of unification, namely the discovery, identification, and
accentuation of two distinct macro areas, both material and symbolic:
North and South.
2. The Rivers of Memory
Recognizing “sites of memory” in a united Italy involves operating on
three planes: Until 1861 the building of the Nation and the State actually
proceeded by means of the selection and renewed streamlining of artifacts
from the past (from an extended period of over two thousand years of
history); after 1861, meaning and distance change under a second inter-
pretative pressure, this time aimed at establishing and broadcasting the
coordinates of collective memory and a public account of yesterday’s
events, in other words the events that led to the birth of the Kingdom of
Italy (in an accelerated period of less than half a century). The third op-
eration carried out on memory has involved historiography; this has been
our task, we who over one hundred and fifty years later have come to
draw the conclusions, in a period when the great tale of our origins has
lost much of its aura.
Our volumes on the Italian sites of memory, written, conceived, and
elaborated during the mid-1990s, did not share the emerging revisionist
and anti-unitary spirit of certain environments (the municipalism, region-
alism and even secessionism expressed by the new movements of the Lega
in Veneto and Lombardy, and the clerical revanchism of a certain power-
Mario Isnenghi
ful right-wing Catholic group, Comunione e Liberazione, torchbearers of a
counter-memory and counter-history of ancien-regime imprint). However,
we were encouraged not to remain prisoners of the lofty schemes forged
in post-unity public discourse, which were more a form of hegemonic
pressure exerted on memory, a political operation and public usage of
history, and certainly not a balanced and reliable presentation of events.
As often happens, silence, omission, and oblivion are of no less impor-
tance in their own way than the emphasis placed on other facts. The con-
cern of historians dealing with the Italian nineteenth century is, and has
been, to reintegrate the political targets of oblivion, restoring importance
to republicans such as Mazzini, Cattaneo and Garibaldi who “invented”
the Nation and sustained the idea; but also to the clericalists who, in the
name of legitimist principles and the Pope-King, had thwarted it, and
blighted feelings of citizenship among the faithful ab origine, in other words
a considerable portion of the population (then around twenty million);
and to more than a few southerners who, without necessarily feeling nos-
talgia for the “Neapolitan homeland” and accomplices to bandits, may
have struggled, and continued to struggle for some time, to subscribe to
the mental adjustment necessary to experience and identify with Pied-
montese occupation as national liberation. Above all, it is obviously not
the task of the historian of memory to assign posthumous compensation
or ideological corrections of real processes. When certain memories have
the strength to impose themselves and marginalize, or even cancel oth-
ers—like the post-1861 moderate, monarchical memory—they themselves
become “facts” under which successive generations live, even though
subordinate to forms of false consciousness. The reconstruction we
sought was, therefore, that of a conflict of directions, whether open or
unspoken, with victors and vanquished but without dogmatization: The
waterways of history are, after all, not straight, artificial canals but instead
exhibit bends, meanders, and resurgences. The waters of republican
memory—but also those of anti-unitary, clerical, pro-Bourbon or pro-
Austrian memory—may recede but they continue to flow underground
and sometimes re-emerge.
The liberal monarchy is well represented by monuments in public
squares by the “disciplined revolutionary.” (In 1866, during the third war
of independence, the government ordered Garibaldi to curtail his volun-
teers, who were setting out for Trent, as they were winning “too much”
against the Austrians. The military leader of the left responded with a
laconic telegram: “I obey.”) In Italian imagery a different, rebel Garibaldi
(Isnenghi, “Garibaldi”) persisted as a counter-memory and political re-
source that has never been completely deactivated, lasting through several
generations, made real and reactivated by the left (and during the twenti-
Italian luoghi della memoria
eth century by the right). The Catholics prevailed in the long run: Liberal-
ism and democracy—repudiated in the motto “be neither elector nor
elected” (1861), excommunicated by the Syllabus (1864), adverted by the
scandalous refusal of the early-twentieth-century “Christian Democrats”
and the liquidation of the newly established Partito Popolare Italiano
(“Popular Party of Italy”) by a Vatican attracted to the “Man of Provi-
dence” Benito Mussolini—also prevailed after the Second World War
under the form of a moderate popular party built on denominational
foundations (cf. Tassani; Riccardi; Bravo). And this occurred precisely
when the majority of Italians denied having ever been fascists, during the
several decades when fascism seemed to disappear both as a real fact and
as memory, becoming almost a mere “digression.”
3. History and Memory
The Italian sites of memory project, though it was conceived during a
period when memory appeared to be depreciated and at risk and was thus
approached as a “battle for memory” (Isnenghi, “Conclusione”) has there-
fore endeavored not to put history in a subordinate position in relation to
memory. Were I to edit it today I would redress the balance even more in
favor of history. In a work on memory this means insisting on the mecha-
nisms, the players, the means of construction, the non-innocent character
of memory—subjective and belonging to specific spontaneous and or-
ganized groups—and their conflicts. (We have known this since the time
of Maurice Halbwachs, but today we live in an age of “invalidated memo-
ries” and the “dictatorship of witnesses.”) The Savoy monarchy effectively
prevailed; Turin, a northern city, marginal in relation to the rest of the
peninsula—with a history, moreover, in many ways less significant than
Venice, Florence, Rome, Naples or Milan—managed to take the central
role in the mid-nineteenth century, during the formative phase of a coun-
try in the making, a country which had, historically, a plurality of centers
and capitals. Turin—if Rome was recognized as destined to become capi-
tal—had in any case to accept and suffer the fact that, in the eyes of the
world and most Italians, Rome was firstly the city of the Pope and then
the city of the King.
Plurality, therefore, is a key concept; Italy was multi-centered, a public
arena charged with tensions and retorts, not sufficiently well-represented
by the elevated post-unitary oleography of its four great figures—Vittorio
Emanuele, Cavour, Mazzini, Garibaldi—to which the most zealous even
added Pius IX, the would-be “liberal pope,” who should have been the
mediator between “good and evil” and instead never tired of dogmatizing
Mario Isnenghi
his own primacy and repudiating the Risorgimento. It was an arduous task to
foster citizenship in this country, especially among an illiterate people used
to believing their priests, who were induced by the ecclesiastical hierarchy
during the first forty years of the Kingdom not to acknowledge the “legal
Italy” that had been brought into being by a secular, often Masonic and
not infrequently Jewish revolution; against this the Church offered a “real
Italy,” the only conceivable nation, which was that of the Guelphs. Dual-
ism was therefore perpetuated, exhuming—and yet again exploiting the
sedimentation and language of memory—the most ancient names
(Guelphs and Ghibellines).
It was a decision to capitalize on an effective expression of anti-
mony—“real Italy/legal Italy”—, flaunted for almost half a century by a
considerable part of the Catholic hierarchy under three pontiffs: Pius IX,
Leo XIII, and Pius X. This “real Italy” was the response of a self-referen-
tial Catholic world, resistant to the state (and incidentally not only to the
“illegitimate” State) and the “legal Italy” of a liberal monarchy which had
broadened, though not to any great extent, its social base in the passage
(in 1976) from the governmental legacy of Cavour to the governments of
the historical left, strengthened by ex-republicans and ex-followers of
Garibaldi who had entered the parliamentary arena. This bi-polar image of
late-nineteenth-century, post-unitary Italy, however, suffers from the ab-
sence of some interesting positions of the period such as the revanchist
attitude of the Church and the intransigent clerical movement. It is also
fitting to include a third Italy within this framework of competing identi-
ties that developed within public debate: the broad range of left-wing
movements, the “non-repentant” remains of the Action Party, republicans
and irredentists, and the newly born socialist party, especially in the 1890s
when, under Andrea Costa and Filippo Turati, the socialists disassociated
themselves from anarcho-socialism and entered the electoral competition.
Though denying the Nation, the same Internationalists, under Bakunin,
Cafiero and Merlino, ended up contributing to the definition of the arena:
After several failed attempts one of them managed to assassinate Umberto
I (1900). The Nation was also the Anti-Nation: The Kingdom also in-
cluded its own denial of both “black” and “red.” The “Italies” in conflict
are substantially three. Shifting back in time, the title of a work by the
national-fascist historian Gioacchino Volpe—L’Italia in cammino (Italy on
the Move”) (1927)—suggests a conceptual framework into which we can
fit the formation and conflict of subjects, identities and memories of what
we can call “three Italies on the move.” This framework ensured several
results: the multiplicity and dialectics of the subjects in question; a division
and conflict which unfolds, moreover, within the same public arena, be-
Italian luoghi della memoria
coming both charged and registered; and the processes of historical dy-
This was what we needed to underscore the specific elements of the
unity-disunity of “Italy as a country,” not yet finalized but in itinere. Symbols
and Myths, Structures and Events, Personalities and Dates, variants and titles of
the volumes of the Italian Sites of Memory project, take on and give struc-
ture and meaning to the lives of generations of “Italians.” They, too, were
on the move, and “on the move” does not necessarily mean going for-
ward, united in one single direction.
The twentieth century engaged the Italians in two great historical
events which can also be seen as opportunities and incentives to dissolve
the disuniting factors within superior forms of unity. These were the First
World War and fascism, two chapters in the transition from elitist society
to mass society. The Great War—debated for ten months in the press and
by the public at large, much less in Parliament—was chosen, desired but
also imposed by many and on many and represents new antitheses, new
dualisms, and the elaboration of new divided memories (Isnenghi,
“Grande Guerra”). Victory over the “Historical Enemy”—the Habsburg
Empire, Austria—created a unity never seen before and at the same time
new aspects of division in experience, in representation, and in the mass
of private and public accounts. Eighty years after the First World War the
conflict over the pros and cons of the war, and its supporters, have not
yet been appeased or become the mere object of historiographical study.
Neither did the most large-scale project and endeavor towards social,
political, and cultural reunification since the Risorgimento—fascism—man-
age to create unity out of differences. Not only did the dictatorship and
single party allow different lines of thought to persist in a variety of
fields—economy, art, concepts of city and rural life; it also retained sig-
nificant powers such as the monarchy, the armed forces, and the Church,
who were to promote and orchestrate the transition of the regime in 1943;
in fact they primarily nourished the need and desire for another Italy among
the antifascist minorities. Again, therefore, in researching these processes
and mental redistributions the historian must maintain a balanced view of
all the different levels, which at this point also include, diversely: the
memory of republican and imperial Rome; a refocusing on the Risorgi-
mento—excessively liberal and parliamentary in the regime’s policy of
memory and the object of a nostalgic countermelody for both internal and
external exiles; and the memory of the “Italy of Vittorio Veneto,” in other
words the victorious army and D’Annunzio’s “greater Italy” which Mus-
solini (Passerini) claimed to have “brought” to Vittorio Emanuele III
when the March on Rome (Isnenghi, “Marcia”) ended in Palazzo Chigi
instead of in prison. The compact vision of a society reunified within a
Mario Isnenghi
“totalitarian” State was, moreover, paradoxically crushed by the regime
itself when it decided, in 1938, to annul the rights of around 40,000 citi-
zens, those Jews who suddenly became “internal foreigners” (di Cori)
though many of them—and their forefathers—had played an active role
in creating the Nation.
In this necessity to contemporaneously grasp unity and disunity as
permanent coordinates of Italian history the summit was reached in the
Second World War. It would be impossible to disentangle the complex
layers of events and memory here. There were several wars within the war,
successive and intertwined, with major points of division defined by two
significant moments in 1943: July 25, the end of the Mussolini govern-
ment; and September 8, the armistice, in other words unconditional sur-
render. The Comitato di Liberazione Nationale (Committee of National Lib-
eration”), the motor of antifascist resistance and the transition from
Monarchy to Republic, attempted to give a structure to the re-emerging
plurality of positions and parties, yet the pressures and figures involved, in
that devastated Italy between 1943 and 1945 which had ceased to believe
in itself as a Great Power, created a field of tensions which included a last-
minute fascism reborn in republican guise, which competed with the anti-
fascists on the concept of Nation and fatherland, but outdid them in the
name of a “new Europe.” On the issues surrounding the war, in the dif-
ferent phases from 1940 to 1945, there are numerous essays, by witnesses
such as Nuto Revelli on the “retreat from Russia,” and scholars such as
Marco Di Giovanni, Giorgio Rochat, Mimmo Franzinelli, Adriano Bal-
lone, Massimo Legnani and Nicola Galleran. The second post-war period
was organized—institutionally, politically, and mentally—according to two
great dividing factors: the antifascism/fascism antithesis, sanctioned by
the republican constitution which formally took effect in 1948, and the
anticommunist/communist antithesis, which, with the Cold War, became
a material constitution of greater effectiveness than the formal constitu-
tion and was never repealed in the political arena, even after 1989.
Bravo, Anna. “La Madonna pelegrina [The Pilgrim Madonna].” Isnenghi,
Simboli 525-36.
Di Cori, Paola. “La leggi razziali [The Racial Laws].” Isnenghi, Simboli 461-
Isnenghi, Mario, ed. Simboli e miti dell’Italia unita [Symbols and Myths].
Rome: Laterza, 1996. Vol 1 of I luoghi della memoria [Sites of Memory].
3 vols. 1996-97.
Italian luoghi della memoria
––, ed. Strutture ed eventi dell’Italia unita [Structures and Events]. Rome:
Laterza, 1997. Vol. 2 of I luoghi della memoria [Sites of Memory]. 3 vols.
––. “Conclusione.” Isnenghi, Strutture 427-74.
––. “Garibaldi.” Isnenghi, Personaggi 25-45.
––. “La Grande Guerra [The Great War].” Isnenghi, Strutture 273-310.
––, ed. L’Italie par elle meme: Lieux de mémoire italiens de 1848 à nos jours. Paris:
Editions Rue d’Ulm, 2006. Trans. of selections from I luoghi della memo-
ria [Sites of Memory]. Rome: Laterza, 1996-97.
––. “La Marcia su Roma [The March on Rome].” Isnenghi, Strutture 311-
––, ed. Personaggi e date dell’Italia unita [Personalities and Dates]. Rome:
Laterza, 1997. Vol. 3 of I luoghi della memoria [Sites of Memory]. 3 vols.
––. “La piazza [The Place].” Isnenghi, Strutture 41-52.
Passerini, Luisa. “Mussolini.” Isnenghi, Personaggi 165-86.
Riccardi, Andrea. “I Papi [The Popes].” Isnenghi, Personaggi 401-25.
Ridolfi, Maurizio. “Mazzini.” Isnenghi, Personaggi 3-23.
Romano, Ruggiero. Paese Italia: Venti secoli di itentità. Rome: Donzelli, 1994.
Sanga, Glauco. “Campane e campanili [Bells and Belltowers].” Isnenghi,
Simboli 29-42.
Tassani, Giovanni. “L’oratorio [The Oration].” Isnenghi, Strutture 135-72.
Tobia, Bruno. “Le Cinque Giornate di Milano [The Five Days of Milan].”
Isnenghi, Strutture 311-30.
Mitteleuropa as a lieu de mémoire
The formation of Mitteleuropa can be traced back to the Holy Roman Em-
pire of the German Nation and to the first Germanic settlements east of
the empire. In a direct line with Austro-Prussian dualism, entrenched at
the time of Maria Theresa and Frederick II, two empires—the German
Reich proclaimed in 1871 and the Habsburg monarchysucceeded the
Holy Roman Empire (abolished at the time of Napoleon, partially re-
stored in 1815 in the form of the German Confederation, irrevocably
destroyed by the Austro-Prussian War in 1866). In the twentieth century,
the mental map of German Central Europe is marked by the geopolitical
concept of Mitteleuropa, which is linked to the liberal nationalist ideology of
Friedrich Naumann, which defined the German war aims in 1915.
Naumann’s ideas attenuated the pan-Germanic program by limiting it to
the area of Central Europe. As a result, German-speaking historians and
political scientists today tend to avoid the word Mitteleuropa, preferring the
terms Zentraleuropa (closer to the FrenchEurope centraland the English
“Central Europe”) or Mittelosteuropa.
Why are Mitteleuropa, Zentraleuropa, and Mittelosteuropa of contemporary
interest for the history of lieux de mémoire? Because from the Enlighten-
ment to the Second World War, this area has, through the individual na-
tional identities, provided the center of the European continent with its
identity. The twentieth century has striven to dismantle and deform Mit-
teleuropa: the First World War, Nazism and the Shoah, the Second World
War, Stalinism and Neo-Stalinism. One can say that since the peace trea-
ties of 1919-1920 and since 1945, Mitteleuropa as a whole has become a lieu
de mémoire, a space of memory (Erinnerungsraum).
The dissemination of German culture formed a space which, from the
end of the eighteenth century on, became the site of confrontation be-
tween, on the one hand, German Kultur and other cultural identities and,
on the other hand, the German-Slavic, German-Jewish, German-Hungar-
ian, German-Rumanian mixture. Cultural Mitteleuropa is thus an ambiva-
lently defined notion. In certain contexts, it evokes the catastrophic path
of Europe’s destiny during the time of nationalisms and imperialisms. In
other contexts, it designates a civilization of cultural mingling at the inter-
section of Northern and Southern Europe, halfway between Occidental
Europe and Oriental Europe.
In the “center” of the European continent, other lieux de mémoire older
than Mitteleuropa retain a subliminal presence, always ready to become
Jacques Le Rider
current again. The distinction between Byzantine Europe and Central
Europe, and later between Islam and Christianity, created religious and
cultural borders separating the Orthodox peoples from the small islands
of Islam which still exist in the Balkans, and Catholics from Protestants.
These borders are lieux de mémoire which have often served to justify dis-
courses of rejection (Russophobe or anti-Serbian), or to explain conflicts
in the post-Communist era, particularly in the territory of the former
Yugoslavia. However, the secularization of European culture renders it
impossible to reduce contemporary conflicts to religious wars. These reli-
gious borders are lieux de mémoire manipulated by neo-nationalistic propa-
ganda. Yet forgetting them would also be unfortunate: For example, con-
sidering attempts to define “fundamental values” and Europe’s cultural
identity, Mitteleuropa is a reminder that both Islam and Judaism have left an
indelible mark on Europe, and that Byzantine Christianity is not only to
be found on the Oriental edge of Europe, but instead also in its geocul-
tural center.
Two other borders, present earlier and still existent, belong to the lieux
de mémoire of Mitteleuropa. The first is that separating Russia from Central
Europe. For the Slavophile Russians, the Catholic, Protestant, and non-
religious Slavs of Central Europe were an exception to the rule which
identified the Slavic soul with the Orthodox church. For Russian Occi-
dentalists, Central Europe was merely a connecting passageway one had to
traverse to get to Germany, France, Italy, or England. Poland, lastly, seen
from the Russian perspective, occupied a place apart, as it could, after all,
to a certain degree be seen as an integral part of the Russian empire. Mit-
teleuropa certainly defined itself most often in opposition to Russia, whose
political and cultural regression appeared threatening from the Central
European point of view. This lieu de memoire, namely the border between
Mitteleuropa and Russia, could possibly reemerge, if the question of closer
ties between Russia and the European Union were to be broached.
The other long-standing border which exists as a lieu de mémoire in
Central Europe is that dividing the Balkans” from the population of
Central Europe. The homo balkanicus is a caricature originally conceived of
by Westerners to denote a primitive European, merely picturesque within
his folklore tradition but barbaric when he takes up arms. European dis-
courses regarding “the Balkans” highlighted an Orientalism without posi-
tive characteristics. They originate from a cultural colonialism which ex-
pects Western civilization to bring a bit of order and rationality to the
fragmented and underdeveloped territories. “The Balkans” were con-
trasted with the Southeast Central Europe of the Habsburgs. Still today,
the expansion of the European Union to include the “Balkans” remains
Mitteleuropa as a lieu de mémoire
incomplete and faces difficulties, of which the symbolic constraints are
not the least important.
The Western borders of Europe are not any simpler to define than its
Eastern borders. Do the German-speaking countries belong to Central or
Western Europe? When the German Reich and the Habsburg monarchy
were in contact with Russia and the Ottoman Empire, they undoubtedly
were a part of Central Europe. Between 1949 and 1990, the Federal Re-
public of Germany belonged to Western Europe, whereas the German
Democratic Republic was a part of “Eastern Europe” and under Soviet
In 1990, after the dissolution of the U.S.S.R., the emancipation of the
Central European republics, and German reunification, Central Europe
seemed to be coming to life again. After the consolidation of the Euro-
pean Community, the center of Europe was no longer the Berlin-Prague-
Vienna-Budapest axis, but rather the axis Rotterdam-Milan. Would the
Eastern enlargement of the European Union allow Europe to recover its
historical center? Or would it become clear that the Central Europe in
question is no longer in the center but rather at the margin of the Europe
of the Treaty of Rome, and that Mitteleuropa now only has the status of a
lieu de mémoire?
This lieu de mémoire had been the talisman of certain intellectual, anti-
Soviet dissident groups. In the 1980s, György Konrád in Budapest and the
Czech Milan Kundera and the Yugoslav Danilo Kis in Paris revived the
discussion about Mitteleuropa. Kundera’s text, first published in Paris in
November 1983, became famous under the title of the American version
from April 1984: “The Tragedy of Central Europe.” Members of the anti-
Soviet resistance of November 1956 in Budapest, Kundera writes, were
fighting for their fatherland and for Europe. It took the repression of the
Prague Spring in 1968 to awaken once again the memory of Central
Europe, the myth of a Golden Age, the end of which was the time around
1900 and the 1920s.
However, the memory of Central Europe also includes fateful epi-
sodes which line the history of the “small nations” that were exposed to
mortal threats. The nations of Central Europe know the experience of
downfall and disappearance. The great Central European novels, namely
those by Hermann Broch, Robert Musil, Jaroslav Hasek, and Franz Kafka,
are meditations on the possible end of European humanity. The tragedy
of Central Europe is, in short, the tragedy of Europe. When the Iron
Curtain falls, Kundera concluded in his text of 1983-84, the peoples of
Central Europe will realize that the culture of Europe (scientific, philoso-
phical, literary, artistic, musical, cinematographic, audio-visual, educational
Jacques Le Rider
and universitarian, multilingual) has ceased to be of value in the eyes of
Europeans themselves, and constitutes at best only a lieu de mémoire.
Almost at the same time, in June 1984, the Hungarian writer György
Konrád published the German version of his essay, “Der Traum von
Mitteleuropa” (“The Dream of Central Europe”), first presented at a con-
ference in Vienna in May 1984. Mitteleuropa for him evoked the memory of
Austria-Hungary during the Belle Époque. The Central European spirit,
he wrote, is a view of the world, an aesthetic sensibility that allows for
complexity and multilingualism, a strategy that rests on understanding
even one’s deadly enemy. The Central European spirit consists of accept-
ing plurality as a value in and of itself; it represents “another rationality,”
Konrád affirmed, an anti-politics, a defense of civil society against politics.
In Central Europe, the “literary republic” was long near to the heart
of the res publica. The first configuration of the cultural identity of Central
Europe appeared when