Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Memory Genealogies in Central and Eastern Europe Theories and Methods

Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Memory Genealogies in Central and Eastern Europe Theories and Methods

Article excerpt

International Conference. Warsaw, 23-25 November 2011 1

Within the last few years the diversity and complexity of studies of memory and its social, historical and spatial determinants have produced the need to take stock of the intellectual achievements in this area of study and to discuss the most recognized and influential theoretical and methodological approaches. It has also laid the foundations for the search for new approaches within the different humanistic disciplines and social sciences. Finally, it has encouraged the development of interdisciplinary research projects.

In my opinion, the international conference Memory Genealogies in Central and Eastern Europe. Theories and Methods (which took place at the Warsaw University Library on 23-25 November 201 12) was an interesting attempt to respond to these needs.

The Conference attracted participants from Central and Eastern Europe, Western Europe and the United States of America, including historians, sociologists, anthropologists, ethnographers, and specialists in culture studies.3 Central and Eastern European countries were well represented.

There were more than 70 presenters. Two of them, Aleida Assmann and Jeffrey Olick, researchers who have greatly contributed to memory studies, evoked the largest interest. Their presentations stimulated heated discussions and polemics and set the tone for the entire conference.

Other renowned memory scholars from Germany were also present, including Lutz Niethammer (University of Jena) , Gertrud Pickham (Free University Berlin) and Alexander von Plato (Fern Universität in Hagen) and the United States of America, including Wulf Kansteiner (Binghamton University). Unfortunately there were no presenters or participants from France, such an important country in the field of social memory, except Nicoletta Diasio (University of Strasbourg).

The Polish organizers set several ambitious conference goals. Above all, they wanted speakers not only to present specific research findings and historical -theoretic studies but also to make an effort to find a common theoretical language for various historical and spatial cases of collective memory.

The Conference was divided into four large thematic blocks. In block one, alluding to Pierre Nora's conception and entitled Lieux de memoire, participants discussed various symbols and events which have shaped memory in Central-Eastern Europe.

Block two, Theories and Conceptions, was devoted to purely theoretical and methodological aspects of memory studies.

Block three, The Dynamics of Memory, was devoted to problems of memory transformations in society in various periods of time and their various cultural and social determinants.

The objective of the last block, Memory Media, was to demonstrate the effects of the media, variously understood, on collective memory.

The session entitled On the Specific Nature of History and Memory in Central-Eastern Europe and the presentations by Aleida Assmann and Jeffrey Olick were very impressive. In my opinion, this session, (not situated in any of the four thematic blocks) was one of the most exciting conference events. Let me add that the problems discussed at this session were reflected in the panels accompanying the four thematic blocks. Participants conducted animated discussions of the chances and limitations of application of theoretical and methodological approaches to memory studies developed in the West to Central-Eastern European research.

Harald Wydra (University of Cambridge) opened the session. He drew attention to the different memory patterns in Eastern and Western Europe and postulated introduction of comparative research into the cultural meaning of national memories and the role of the elite in the development of these types of social memory.

Sîawomir Kapralski, anthropologist and sociologist (The Warsaw School of Social Sciences and Humanities), presented a different approach to this issue. …

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