Lieux de mémoire: a never ending story

Last week I was at a conference in Bochum about the lieux de mémoire. Next year, a larger project will be launched on the regional Erinnerungsorte of the Ruhr. My intervention was entitled Comparative perspectives on national lieux de mémoire projects. But while listening to other colleagues, I changed the title to Lieu de mémoire” as a realm of memory for European historians. Lieu de mémoire has become one of the most widespread historiographic (west) European concept. You find it in France, Germany, Poland, Belgium… In all of these historiographies, the concept is used and discussed. To prepare my intervention, I assembled all the academic lieux de mémoire projects. The French lieux de mémoire were clearly inscribed in a national paradigm. The aim was to write a new, not essentialist, national history. The first copies in Italy and Germany followed this national structure. And the three were criticised for this perspective. But today one can observe that the lieux de mémoire are no longer a national but a transnational paradigm: since the second half of the 2000s the concept is more and more used to analyse transnational spaces.

Kornelia Konczal who worked for the Deutsch-Polnische Erinnerungsorte and myself pleaded to overcome the “Nora imaginaire” (Étienne François). In Germany, the reception of Pierre Nora is heavily influenced by a booklet, first published in 1990 by Wagenbach, even before the last volumes of the original French lieux de mémoire were finished. According to Tilmann Robbe1, Wolfram Kaiser made an “escalating” translation. Only the Nora from the first volumes appears, a Nora who regrets the disappearance of memory. In the later volumes, he takes the opposite position complaining about the bulimia of memory.

I was most impressed by the talk given by Chris Lorenz. He reflected on the change of the functions of memory and history. He argued that since we do not believe any more in being able to improve the future, we try to improve the past (truth commission, reparations, historical commissions…). For Lorenz this completely changes the definition of history that defined itself since the 18th century as being a practice that construed the past as something fundamentally “strange”. With the “hot history” this is no longer possible.


List of academic lieux de mémoire projects

  • Boer Pim den, Duchhardt Heinz, Kreis Georg et Schmale Wolfgang (éd.), Europäische Erinnerungsorte 1: Mythen und Grundbegriffe des europäischen Selbstverständnisses, München, Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag, 2011.
  • Boer Pim den et Frijhoff Willem (éd.), Les Lieux de mémoire et identités nationales, Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Press, 1993.
  • Brix Emil, Bruckmüller Ernst et Stekl Hannes (éd.), Memoria Austriae, München; Oldenbourg, 2004.
  • Czaplinski Marek, Hahn Hans-Joachim et Weger Tobias (éd.), Schlesische Erinnerungsorte : Gedächtnis und Identität einer mitteleuropäischen Region, Görlitz, Neisse, 2005.
  • Feldbæk Ole (éd.), Dansk identitetshistorie, Kobenhaven, C.A. Reitzel, 1991.
  • Fleischhauer Carsten (éd.), Schleswig-Holsteinische Erinnerungsorte, Heide, Boyens, 2006.
  • François Etienne et Schulze Hagen (éd.), Deutsche Erinnerungsorte, München, Beck, 2001.
  • Hahn Hans Henning et Traba Robert (éd.), Deutsch-Polnische Erinnerungsorte, Paderborn, Schöningh, 2012.
  • Henningsen Bernd et Kliemann-Geisinger Hendriette (éd.), Transnationale Erinnerungsorte: Nord- und südeuropäische Perspektiven, BWV Verlag, 2009.
  • Isnenghi Mario et Alessandrone Perona Ersilia (éd.), I luoghi della memoria. Simboli e miti dell’Italia unita, Roma, Laterza, 1996.
  • Jaworski Rudolf, Kusber Jan et Steindorff Ludwig (éd.), Gedächtnisorte in Osteuropa : Vergangenheiten auf dem Prüfstand, Frankfurt am Main; P. Lang, 2003.
  • Kolboom Ingo (éd.), Gedächtnisorte im anderen Amerika : Tradition und Moderne in Québec, Heidelberg, Synchron, 2002.
  • Kreis Georg (éd.), Schweizer Erinnerungsorte : aus dem Speicher der Swissness, Zürich, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 2010.
  • Marès Antoine, Lieux de mémoire en Europe centrale, Paris, Institut d’études slaves, 2009.
  • Markschies Christoph, Erinnerungsorte des Christentums, München, Beck, 2010.
  • Martin Philippe et Roth François (éd.), Mémoire & lieux de mémoire en Lorraine, Sarreguemines, Pierron, 2003.
  • Nivat Georges Michel, Les sites de la mémoire russe, Paris, Fayard, 2007.
  • Nora Pierre (éd.), Les lieux de mémoire, Paris, Gallimard, 1984.
  • Rider Jacques Le, Csáky Moritz et Sommer Monika (éd.), Transnationale Gedächtnisorte in Zentraleuropa, Innsbruck, StudienVerlag, 2002.
  • Sabrow Martin (éd.), Erinnerungsorte der DDR, München, Beck, 2009.
  • Stein-Hölkeskamp E. et Hölkeskamp Karl-Joachim (éd.), Erinnerungsorte der Antike: die römische Welt, München, Beck, 2006.
  • Tollebeek Jo, Buelens Geert, Deneckere Gita, Kesteloot Chantal et Schaepdrijver Sophie de (éd.), België, een parcours van herinnering, Amsterdam, Bakker, 2008.
  • Weber Matthias (éd.), Erinnerungsorte in Ostmitteleuropa : Erfahrungen der Vergangenheit und Perspektiven, München, Oldenbourg, 2011.
  • Weber Reinhold (éd.), Baden-Württembergische Erinnerungsorte, Stuttgart, Landeszentrale für politische Bildung Baden-Württemberg, 2012.
  • Weber Wolfgang (éd.), Europäische Erinnerungsorte im Mittelalter, Paderborn, 2002.
  1. Robbe Tilmann, Historische Forschung und Geschichtsvermittlung : Erinnerungsorte in der deutschsprachigen Geschichtswissenschaft, Göttingen, V&R unipress, 2009. []

Benoit Majerus

Since January 2011, I am working as an historian at the University of Luxembourg. I have written my PhD on the occupation of Belgium during World War One and World Two. In 2013 I published a social history of psychiatry in the 20th century from below. I am also co-editor of h-madness.

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About Benoit Majerus

Since January 2011, I am working as an historian at the University of Luxembourg. I have written my PhD on the occupation of Belgium during World War One and World Two. In 2013 I published a social history of psychiatry in the 20th century from below. I am also co-editor of h-madness.

5 thoughts on “Lieux de mémoire: a never ending story

  1. The reference for the “Nora imaginaire”: François É., « Pierre Nora und die lieux de mémoire », P. Nora (dir.), Erinnerungsorte Frankreichs, München, Beck, 2005, p. 8.

  2. L’idée d’une crise de l’avenir n’est pas nouvelle. Elle est au coeur de la notion de “présentisme” d’Hartog.
    Plus intéressante encore est l’analyse qu’en fait Henry Rousso dans La dernière catastrophe.

  3. Lorenz thinks that with the end of big narratives that organised the future such as communism, we no longer believe that we are able to influence the future and so we try to “rewrite” the past.

  4. “we do not believe any more in being able to improve the future” you mean -quoting Lorenz- using history to improve the future ? So history is again a science for understanding the past ? Up to me “truth commission, reparations, historical commissions”, and keeping memories alive -also with lieux de mémoure- are all about our present and the future, not essentially about the past itself.

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