Politics of Remembrance: Berlin - Memory, Identity, and Modernity

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Course Information
Urban Studies
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This course will address the relationship between history, memory and identity. Berlin’s history has been shaped by conflicting identities and ideologies. We will focus on how these conflicts have left their traces in literature, memory, and urban geography.

We will address the relationship between history, memory and identity through considering modes of commemoration through the narratives of fiction, testimonial literature, photography and film, and we will deal with ideological manipulations of commemorative forms. While considering how literature, architecture and films process individual and collective memory, our approach will be comparative and interdisciplinary with an emphasis on relevant social and cultural events.

How does the interplay between landscape, experience and memory create a sense of identity? How do we make sense of the multiplicity of meanings that resonate with landscapes and memories, in particular in a city like Berlin where we will encounter multiple Berlins and distinct stories of belonging. What is the relationship between narratives of memory and perceptions of current transformations of the city?

There will be regular field trips, city walks and film screenings.

The course will work with the following assumptions about memory politics:

  • Memory is always selective and manipulated. It reveals an interpretation rather than a mirror image of the past. National memory narratives promote an official version of events. They change in accordance with political and societal circumstances.
  • Memories are symbolic representations of the past. They cannot recreate it, but only suggest what the past might have been, and what of it should or should not matter today.
  • Memory is about identity and belonging. People’s ability to remember always depends on socio-political and cultural circumstances. When private memory disappears or has to be suppressed for the sake of normalcy, it gets replaced by an interpretation and use of that memory that claims to be objective.
  • Memory is indeterminate and controversial. It can never be fully controlled by political elites. Nonetheless, governments shape what, when, and how people remember or forget the past through providing funds for memorials and museums.
  • Memory is about the interplay between remembering and forgetting. A city is composed of affective landscapes of intentional forgetting and painful remembering.