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Politics of Cultural Memory


Admission requirements

Completion of the What is Culture? course or permission of the instructor.


The course will explore a memory boom of unprecedented proportions in the past two and a half decades. The events that followed the break-up of the Cold War structure undoubtedly have produced little hope and political imagination for the future. The post-WW2 grand historical narrative has increasingly become fluid (if not faded or forgotten) and memory and its representations became an obsession of contemporary culture and politics, and generated many passionate debates in politics and the academy. This course is addressing the contemporary salience of memory and the controversies it has caused.

A Russian saying claims that the past has become much more unpredictable than the future. According to Pierre Nora (2002), the global age on one side is characterized by ‘acceleration of memory’ that suggests that the most prominent feature of the world is no longer continuity but rapid change where delineation of past, present and future becomes blurred. On the other hand, memory rose in value with the emergence of identity politics throughout the world. While it caused a certain ‘democratization’ of memory and created space for transitional justice, it affected a trend of relativization of historical facts and denial of war crimes, for example.

The way we remember who we are is at the core of our identities. What does it mean for an ethnic group, nation, gender or culture to remember? How is it different from autobiographical memory or history, and why the collective memory occupies scholarly imagination in the last two decades? What is the subject of our study when we observe society through the prism of collective memory? Through which processes an individual memory becomes collective? In the spirit of George Orwell’s cliché that ‘whoever controls the present controls the past’, it is clear that collective remembering/recollecting is a contested process that is bound-up in complex political stakes and meanings. It becomes a source of political legitimacy in the present, as well as central mechanism for the transmission of values to future generations.

Collective memory is produced in various forms and the course will explore some of them in contemporary culture of the US, Europe, East Asia and Africa.

The course will begin by exploring modern memory theory and the processes how memory works. The course then moves on to look at public memory and the controversies it has activated. After exploring the theoretical issues, we will examine case studies of public remembering and its politics in different parts of the world asking an overarching question what does a reorganization of the temporality (past-present-future) in different contexts means, and what is the politics behind it.

Course Objectives

This module aims to provide a critical exploration of key issues and challenges related to the politics of memory in a globalized world. By the end of the module, students will be able to:

  • Evaluate major concepts and theories related to collective memory

  • Identify remembering/forgetting practices in public life to acknowledge diverse ways in which memory works in public and everyday life

  • Critically engage with the problem of mobilization of memory as politics, and argue about the complex relations between the practices of memory and the practices of politics

  • Implement theoretical and conceptual tools in the analysis of empirical cases

  • Demonstrate appropriate cognitive, communicative and transferable skills; develop the capacity for independent learning, critique major texts and approaches and lead class discussions.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2023-2024 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

he course is taught through two-hour seminars. Students will be expected to participate in both large and small group discussions; present and defend their ideas within an academic setting; and take part in individual presentations. The instructor will facilitate and ensure the efficient running of the discussion, but students are responsible for shaping its direction. Each seminar has a ‘required reading’ list that must be read in advance of each seminar. Students will write 4 weekly reflection notes based on compulsory readings for next week (submission end of the weeks 2,3,4 and 5). Students are also recommended to read some of the items listed under ‘suggested reading’ prior to each seminar and use the extended list as a starting point in their preparation for essay writing.

Assessment Method

  • Assessment 1: Seminar Participation (10%)

  • Assessment 2: Weekly reflection notes – 4 notes (40-500 words) per 10% (40%)

  • Assessment 3: Presenting proposal for the individual research essay (15%)

  • Assessment 4: Individual Research Project (35%)

Reading list

Readings will be provided by the teacher via Brightspace.


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Dr. Maja Vodopivec,