Reflections on Cultural Memory

September 2, 2008

In the last three decades there has been a “memory boom,” a period marked by an increase in awareness about traumatic pasts and a drive towards memorialization. Museum spaces have increasingly become sites for the representation of traumatic histories including the Holocaust, civil war and genocides around the world.

But visual representations of traumatic memory often spill out of museum spaces, creating new forms of interaction between city inhabitants, tourists, artists, architects and students. From Hiroshima to Maputo, modern cities embody their troubled histories.

Cultural memory as an academic field is relatively new, but there has been an explosion of research in recent decades. Topics include trauma, repression, history vs. memory, public and private space, victim and victimizer, the archive and the witness, and consumer culture. My hope is that this website will help explore the international entanglements of cultural memory.

In particular, I am interested in the ways in which Truth Commissions reveal a dialectical relationship between history and memory, allowing for memory to rectify some of the intentional absences of history. There have been dozens of Truth Commissions implemented around the world as a way to deal with transitional justice. I hope to closely watch the development of the Canadian Truth And Reconciliation Commission announced in June of 2008 as a contemporary example where discourses of human rights, cultural memory and the project of nation-building are illuminated.

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