The Futures of the Past
PÉTER APOR AND OKSANA SARKISOVA
Since the late 1980s, when the changes in Eastern and Central Europe seemed overwhelming and access to previously restricted information grew exponentially, this region could safely claim an unpredictable past. Today, almost two decades after the fall of communist regimes, scholars working on the recent past are paradoxically challenged by the abundance of memory and the variety of witnesses' accounts, which confront the professional historical narrative with the simple claim “I was there and it was completely different.” Walking down the street, having a family dinner, or flipping through postcards and photo albums, we all make daily inroads into history. What happens to the sites of memory which remain fiercely contested in the present? What role can historians play in the “foreign country” of the past—that of natives, tourguides, or a select priestly caste? What new meanings are inscribed on the images retrieved from the past?
The individual contributions in this volume share a common methodological concern: how can visual material participate in the (re)constructions of the past? The invention of photography, the subsequent spread of documentary filming and the relatively recent boom of a global television culture do not merely provide the historian with an abundance of new visual sources, but also inspire the scholar to develop innovative research tools to cope with this challenging historical material. Whereas visual material has been long used for historical reconstruction, its relationship to written sources was always controversial. During the institutionalization of the profession in the nineteenth century, information obtained from different kind of sources were ordered hierarchically. In the heyday of historicism, the conclusive information for the historian generally meant various forms of written text. While visual sources were also studied extensively, this task was usually delegated to “auxiliary sciences” like archeology, numismatics or heraldry or confined to the independent discipline of art history. Due to the relative paucity of written documents in these periods,