HS 341 - History and Memory: Monarchy and Dictatorship in 20th Century Central Europe

Historical scholarship is divided by scholars who think that history is a science, based on laws, an unalterable set of facts which can be ascertained by archaeological or archival research, founded along the ideas of 19th century German scholars such as Theodor Mommsen and Leopold von Ranke and their contemporaries in (mostly) Western Europe.  Contemporary philosophers, post-modern theorists and „new historians” argue that there is no such a thing as „history”: much rather, people remember the past in different and individual ways, and the result is a composite mixture of their memories, ever changing, imagined, incomplete. A recent addition to this argument, by the French historian Pierre Nora, is the lieu(x) de mémoire, the place(s) where we remember the past, the display of monuments, sculptures, public spaces to remember e.g. the two World Wars, the Holocaust, national revolutions, terrorist attacks, historical figures, national heroes, and many other events and people who became relics and symbols of the past. European history, and Habsburg history in particular, underwent major changes as a result of these new philosophies and arguments. Much of what individuals, everyday people remember has entered History showing the enormous diversity and versatility of the past which we, ordinary human beings, personally shape and own – or disown.

The course presents two areas of history vs memory in particular: (1) the Habsburg Monarchy and its legacy in the nation states; (2) the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century.

(1) The Habsburg Monarchy, and particularly its great capital cities Vienna and Budapest, offer a rich venue to explore the changing nature of ‘History’ into histories. The dissolution of the Habsburg Empire, i.e. the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, in 1919-1920, resulted in the reorganization of a vast area in the center of Europe. The survivor states of the Habsburg lands such as today’s Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, and parts of Italy, Poland, Romania, and Ukraine have their own histories of their Habsburg period and these different histories are combined with memories, national, regional, and personal narratives of the past.

(2) The totalitarian regimes of Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union loom large in both contemporary historiography and public memory. One of the most painful parts of the legacy of Hitler’s Europe is the Holocaust, the systematic, industrialized extermination of European Jewry. The course juxtaposes the ways the Holocaust is remembered today including efforts to deny its existence.

The outcome of investigating history vs memory in Habsburg, national, and totalitarian contexts is a heightened sensitivity to we what know and what we remember, how the past survives in both scholarship and the public mind. Our knowledge of the past comes from the combination of learning and remembering, study and memory. Fact and fiction combined help us remember the past.

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College-level or AP course in Western and/or European History or Art History

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