Contested Pasts: The Politics of Memory

Contested Pasts: The Politics of Memory

Contested Pasts: The Politics of Memory

Contested Pasts: The Politics of Memory

Synopsis

This inter-disciplinary volume demonstrates, from a range of perspectives, the complex cultural work and struggles over meaning that lie at the heart of what we call memory.In the last decade, a focus on memory in the human sciences has encouraged new approaches to the study of the past. As the humanities and social sciences have put into question their own claims to objectivity, authority and universality, memory has appeared to offer a way of engaging with knowledge of the past as inevitably partial, subjective and local. At the same time, memory and memorial practices have become sites of contestation, and the politics of memory are increasingly prominent.

Excerpt

Contested Pasts and its companion volume Regimes of Memory have been some five years in the making. The seeds of both were sown during a research discussion day held in the Department of Cultural Studies (as it then was) at the University of East London, in 1997. At that meeting, it emerged that we shared an interest in memory, though coming at it from different places and directions and theories. Katharine Hodgkin had a background in research on autobiographical writing (especially early modern), and a general interest in questions of history and memory, as well as history and psychoanalysis. Susannah Radstone worked on cultural theory, psychoanalysis, literature, film and contemporary history, and was already actively involved in research on memory. A further seed was Raphael Samuel’s brief presence as a professor in the department, setting up a history research centre that would undoubtedly have been a focus for work drawing on and developing his seminal work on history and memory. His death interrupted that project, along with much else. But for the department as well as personally it seemed a valuable thing to hold some sort of event that would acknowledge that work, and remember him. Susannah Radstone, meanwhile, in the throes of editing an interdisciplinary volume on memory and finding links to work going on in Canada and the USA, was keen to build on those links, and initiate a wider conversation on the subject.

The first outcome of this convergence of interests and wishes was an international interdisciplinary conference, ‘Frontiers of Memory’, held at the Institute of Education in September 1999. The response to our early calls for papers was disconcertingly large, and over the months that followed, as we worked through and selected from a continuing flood of abstracts, we found ourselves increasingly intrigued by the overview we were acquiring of work on memory in the late 1990s, and by the emphases and the absences these abstracts suggested. We wanted the conference to be as open as possible to interdisciplinary work; we were interested in work about past and present, space and time, objects and fantasies. It quickly became clear that though we were not going to have as many papers from historians as we had hoped, a vast number of people were working on traumatic and holocaust memory; this pattern is reflected on further in the Introduction to Contested Pasts. The conference was . . .

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