Institute's colloquium:

European Heritage and Memory Politics

Every Tuesday evening during the summer semester 2016, lecture room 311 at the Department of European Ethnology housed a joint cooperation between the Department of European Ethnology (IfEE) and CARMAH, a colloquium with the title European Heritage and Memory Politics. International scholars presented their fieldwork and research on different aspects of this topic, making the colloquium an entangled experience of critical views on Europeanisation, transnational memory, and heritage. This text does not summarize the main arguments of the different presentations, but briefly wishes to clarify the common themes connecting the lectures over the months.

Starting out was Tahani Nadim, who shared her thoughts on the making of Europe through the homepage Fauna Europaea, an archive containing ‘All European Animal Species Online’, as the home page claims. Christina Schwenkel argued that not only Europe but the ‘West’ is being provincialized, pointing to the importance of things collected in East Germany by Vietnamese workers who had laboured here during the socialist time. Not only were these bikes, trucks and coffee machines valuable objects and status symbols back when they were acquired; today they are an important part of public cultural heritage in Vietnam through the museumification of these objects, showing the affinity of the Vietnamese with East Germany. Also in Spain, as Nathan Sznaider showed, ways of memory have crossed borders – not like objects, but in ways of dealing with the past, in ways of remembrance. Recently, Sznaider argued, memory of the victims of Franco’s regime is being justified through a terminology drawing directly on the one used for remembering the victims of the Holocaust after the Second World War. But also as multidirectional memory the Holocaust influences contemporary memory activism in Spain. Through the reference to the disappeared under the military dictatorship in Argentina, the references to the Holocaust made there are brought to Spain as well.

Stefan Groth and Regina Bendix pointed out the difficulties in defining culture and cultural heritage when looking at the cultural policies of the EU, making the European Union’s  politics on heritage another recurring subject of the colloquium. As difficult as they might be to grasp, these policies have visible impact on countries within as well as outside the Union. Gisela Welz argued, with her long-term research on Cyprus, how for example listed buildings on the island have become what she calls “European products”, largely preserved as material heritage in consequence of European policies and standards. Furthermore Claske Vos conducted research on the scope of European heritage policies, arguing that not only within its member states, but also through enlargement policies, heritage has been Europeanised. She demonstrated this through her field work on Serbia, where EU-funded projects are chosen on the basis of their compliance to conditions set by Member States, and their willingness to take over the grand narratives established by these.

Chiara de Cesari was inspired to do fieldwork at the Musée des Civilisations de l´Europe et de la Méditerranée in Marseille as well as at the Museum Europäischer Kulturen in Berlin, in an attempt to try and understand what is meant by ´European´. Without finding a satisfying answer she reasoned that even though European museums are expected to supersede the national museum, they instead end up being constrained by them, reinforcing their borders. Laia Colomer’s research among Third Culture Kids (TCKs) also made clear both the difficulties and relevancy of thinking outside of nation states’ boxes in relation to heritage and memory. How do you relate to heritage, Colomer asked, if you cannot answer the question “where do you come from?”? Among TCKs she found that airports, which she understood as non-places, are perceived as heritage sites; places that on the one hand seemed familiar, but on the other hand marked changes in the lives of these very mobile people. Damani Partridge also analysed transnational lives through memory. He presented research from his forthcoming book on racial memory and the Holocaust, and showed the importance of being able to deal with memory of the Holocaust in determined ways, when new immigrants want to be accepted as possibleparticipants in German society.

Following perceptive presentations, the windows in 311 were opened, giving air to the questions from the audience. Concerned with where to continue from here when researching heritage and memory, many questions revolved around how we can challenge the national as a memory frame, approaching memory as a transnational or multidirectional phenomena instead. And to what extent is it possible to convert these critical approaches into useful tools in our work with and in museums and curating? Few solutions were offered to these issues during the colloquium. But various critical approaches to European heritage and memory politics were incited, showing the topicality of approaching public memory beyond the nation state, and approaching Europe beyond Europe.

Rikke Gram is a master student at the Department of European Ethnology. As student assistant of CARMAH, she took part in organising the colloquium European Heritage and Memory Politics, together with Sharon Macdonald, Regina Römhild, and Leonore Scholze-Irrlitz.