The Experiences and Memories of War in European Comparison: (Trans)national and Interdisciplinary Approaches

The Experiences and Memories of War in European Comparison: (Trans)national and Interdisciplinary Approaches

DFG-AHRC Research Group on 'Nations, Borders, Identities: the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars in European Experiences and Memories' (FU Berlin, TU Berlin, University of York), Berlin Organizers: PD. Dr. Arnd Bauerkämper (BKVGE, FU Berlin), Prof. Karen Hagemann (TU Berlin / University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Dr. Ruth Leisowitz (BKVGE, FU Berlin)
European Academy Berlin, Bismarckallee 46/48, 14193 Berlin
From - Until
11.11.2005 - 12.11.2005
Leiserowitz, Ruth

Aims and Agenda
The project Nations, Borders, Identities is intended to examine experiences and memories of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars in a European longue durée perspective. The main focus of analysis will be on the images and narratives that formed war experiences and memories and therefore individual and collective identities all over Europe. Of central interest is the (re)construction of ‘the self’ and ‘the other’ through the drawing of boundaries defined in national, regional, social or cultural terms. The assumption is that the network of (trans)national and regional images and narratives that derived from this first period of modern world wide war had long lasting effects on the political culture of Europe in general and the elations of nations and regions in particular. For such a comparative European project the critical reflection of theories and methods and central concepts is of crucial importance. The planned workshop is designed to discuss in a comparative European perspective (trans)national and interdisciplinary discourses on the theory and methodology relevant to the experiences and memories of war. It should not only sharpen the awareness of national differences in the theoretical conceptualisation of terms like Erfahrung, experience, expérience, Gedächtnis, memory, mémoire, pamjat’ oder wspomnienia. It also should aim for a (trans)national theoretical and methodological approach that could be shared by all researchers from all over Europe – East like West, North like South Europe.

Wars in general seem to be historical events of central importance for both individual and collective experiences and memories, because they form a ”decisive break in continuity”, which intrudes in the life of social groups and individuals alike. Both have to come to terms with this experience through their work on memory and remembrance. In other words: wars are ”sluice gates of memory”. Depending on the outcome, they can even mould the individual and collective memory of the pre-war period. Because of the interrelation of constructed traditions, contemporary experience and memory, the history of war experiences should not simply investigate the patterns of perception and interpretation during and after wars, but also the processes of communication and interaction in the pre- and post-war era. Through communication, interactions and symbolic representations, war experiences stay present in individual and collective memory and become a referential framework for the actions of subsequent generations.

The theories and methods of the history of experience and memory are an intensively discussed interdisciplinary field. Different approaches have been proposed in different national academic cultures and disciplines. Different terms are used in different languages with a different meaning. One of the best known approaches to the history of memory is the concept of lieux de mémoire introduced in the 1980s by the French historian Pierre Nora. His concept of lieux de mémoire defines a crystallisation point, a narrative abbreviation of the ”collective memory”, which migrated rapidly from its discipline and place of origin to other disciplines and areas. Nowadays it is common knowledge that a lieu de mémoire may be a material, symbolic or functional place, in which a group can recognise itself and/or its own history/tradition. In its entirety these lieux de mémoire constitute the ”space” of memory of a group or society. Pierre Nora’s work is based on the concept of ”collective memory” developed in the 1930s and 1940s by the French sociologist Maurice Halbwachs. For him all collectives have their roots in the past. They need a shared collective memory that helps to create an identity for the past, present and future. Forty years later the German cultural theorists Aleida and Jan Assmann have proposed a further development of this concept. They suggested differentiating between ”communicative” and ”cultural memory”. The former is defined as the kind of memory that is based on communication in everyday life, and reaches at best back three generations (one saeculum). It is less structured and hierarchical than cultural memory. In cultural memory the remembered becomes part of ‘the culture’ and thereby more and more codified, structured and hierarchical. Not everyone has the same access to the framing of this cultural memory. Aleida and Jan Assmann like others emphasise the significance of the media and cultural practices for a memory spanning generations and epochs, because individuals and cultures create even cultural memory interactively, through communication in words, images and ritualised repetition, and organise it with the aid of ”external storage media and cultural practices”. According to them, this implies that the nature of memory necessarily changes along with the development of these media. A third approach to the history of experience and memory is the concept of the “invention of tradition” proposed in the early eighties by the British historians Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger. They emphasised that all traditions (and thereby the cultural memory of a society or group) are historically constructed. This means that they are permanently changed and reinvented by the ‘porters of tradition’ (individuals, groups or institutions). The traditions that they invent and develop influence not only the perception and experience of the present but also its memory in the future. This approaches are all well known in the international community of scholars, but very little is known beyond the small circle of experts about the theoretical and methodological discussion on the phenomenon’s of historical experiences and memories on countries like Italy, Poland, Russia or Spain.

Because of the national and disciplinary differences in approaches to the history of experiences and memory it will be of crucial importance for the international project on Nations, Borders, Identities: The Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars in European Experiences and Memories to start with a critical and comparative analysis of the different approaches in East and West Europe and beyond. Moreover it will be necessary to reflect on the problems of historical comparison in this field of the history of experience and memory. The workshop will not only discuss the different theoretical conceptualisations of terms like Erfahrung, experience, expérience, Gedächtnis, memory, mémoire or pamjet’ and wspomnienia and reflect the different national historiographical traditions and the conceptual controversies behind them, but also analyse the international transfers of ideas and theoretical concepts and debate, the pattern of acceptance and use of concepts in different countries, and the reasons for this. The focus of the workshop’s discussion will therefore be the following two central questions:

• What kind of theoretical and methodological frameworks for the history of the experiences and memories of war exist in different national academic cultures and disciplines?
• To what extent and in what ways have ideas and theories of the experiences and collective memories of war been transferred not only between the different national scientific communities but also disciplines?

The aim of the workshop is to sharpen awareness of (trans)national discourses on and national differences in the usage of terms and concepts and to develop a theoretical and methodological approach that could be shared by the European project group, which wants to include next to the West European also the East, North and South European perspective.


Friday, November 11, 2005

Registration and Welcome Coffee
10.00 -11:00 a.m.

Welcome and Introduction:
11:00 –11.20 a.m.
PROF. KAREN HAGEMANN (TU Berlin / University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Erfahrung, Experience, Expérience – Comparative Perspectives
11:20 a.m.– 1:30 p.m.
Chair: PROF. KAREN HAGEMANN (TU Berlin / University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
PROF. DR. HANS MEDICK (Max Planck Institute for History): The Experience and Memory of the Thirty Years War. Microhistorical views of a macrohistorical event
PROF. HORST CARL (University of Gießen): The History of Experiences of Wars: Theoretical Considerations in Comparison
PROF. ALAN FORREST (University of York): War Experiences and Regional/National Identity Construction

Lunch at the EAB: 1:30–3:00 p.m.

Gedächtnis, Memory, Mémoire in (Trans)National and Interdisciplinary Contexts I
3:00 – 4.40 p.m.
PROF. ETIENNE FRANÇOIS (TU Berlin): Mémoire collective and lieux de mémoire: French Memory Research
DR. ASTRID ERLL (University of Gießen): British approaches to the experience and memory of war
PROF. JOSÉ ALVAREZ JUNCO (University of Complutense, Madrid): Could Memories Get Lost? Collective Memory in Spain

Coffee Break: 4:40 –5:00 a.m.

5:00 – 6.40 p.m.
Chair: PROF. ERICH PELZER (University of Mannheim)
PROF. ALEXANDER MARTIN (Oglethorpe University): Remembering 1812: Russian and Soviet Scholarship on Historical Memory
Dr. Andrzej Nieuwany (Copernikus University Torun/ Pultusk High School of Humanities): Memories of the Napoleonic Wars in Polish/East Europe

7:00 p.m. Dinner at the EAB

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Gedächtnis, Memory, Mémoire in (Trans)National and Interdisciplinary Contexts II
9:30 – 11:20 a.m.
Chair: PROF. BEATRICE HEUSER (Military History Research Institute)
DR. JORG ECHTERNKAMP (Military History Research Institute): Relating Memories - Remembering WW I after the experience of WW II in Germany
MAG.A PHIL. CHRISTINA KLEISER (BKVGE): "Shared memory" and "collective memory"- A critical discussion of two controversial concepts in Avishai Margalit's The ethics of memory

Coffee Break: 11:20 – 11:40 a.m.

Final Discussion:
Roundtable: Transfer and Comparison of (War) Experiences and Memories
11:40 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Introductory Comments:
PROF. RICHARD BESSEL (University of York)
PROF. UTE DANIEL (University of Brunswig)
DR. JANE RENDALL (University of York)

Lunch at the EAB: 1:00 – 2:30 p.m.

Registration and Conference Fee:

For lunch and coffee breaks we need to ask for a conference fee of 28,- Euro per day.
The dinner on Friday evening will cost 14,- Euro.
Please register for the workshop and make a reservation for lunch and dinner in advance, because both has to be ordered.
For the registration send an email till November 7, 2005 to the conference assistant Maria Schultz: <>.

Conference Location:
Europäische Akademie Berlin (EAB)
Bismarckallee 46/48
D-14193 Berlin
Tel.: ++ 49 (0)30 - 89 59 51 -0
Fax: ++ 49 (0)30 - 89 59 51 -95

How to get to the EAB:

Contact (announcement)

Dr. Ruth Leiserowitz
DFG-project Nations Borders, Identities. The Revolutionary and Napoleonic
Wars in European Memory (1815-1945)
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