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Politics of Memory




Admission Requirements

Similarly-tagged 200/300-level courses or permission from the instructor.


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’ which 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? 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 history of the US, Europe and East Asia:

  • In the United States in the 1980s and 1990s (and early 2000s) through discussing public remembrance of Vietnam War, the struggle to create America’s Holocaust Museum, public remembrance of 9/11 or AIDS epidemic;

  • In Europe: the unification of Germany in collective European memory and nostalgia for the communist era in Eastern Europe;

  • In East Asia: re-presenting trauma in late 1960s in Japan, Korea and China.

Course Objectives

Students should be able to understand contemporary memory practices and theory. They should be able to identify shifting social frames within which memories are embedded, as well as external media and institutions that serve to preserve and transfer experiences and knowledge (peace memorials, museums, art, literature, films etc.).

Mode of Instruction

The course will be taught through lectures, film (feature and documentary) projections, compulsory reading, an online discussion forum, active debates and group presentations, and a couple of excursions (visits to museums or events).


All reading materials will be provided by the instructor.