Mnemonic Solidarity : Colonialism, War, and Genocide in the Global Memory Space
Globalization has dramatically reconfigured the mnemoscape in the third millennium. The space in which collective memories take shape is no longer national but global, and in the emerging global memory space, memories have become entangled, reconciled, contested, conflicted and negotiated across borders, connecting historical actors and events across time and space in new ways. Traces of the upheavals and cataclysms that have shaped the modern world, from the primitive accumulation of capital to post-Cold War neoliberalism, form a shared palimpsest. Memories of slavery, racism, colonial genocide, nationalism, world wars, holocaust, anti-colonial liberation movements, Revolution ’68, feminist movements, social minority movements, multi-culturalism, globalization, post-nationalism, etc. are inseparably interconnected. A generation of scholars has devised terms such as “multidirectional memory”, “travelling memory”, “prosthetic memory” and “entangled memory” to characterize this process.
“Mnemonic Solidarity: Colonialism, War, and Genocide in the Global Memory Space,” a multi-year, transdisciplinary, international research project launched by the Critical Global Studies Institute in 2017, seeks to trace the history of this global memory formation and its influence on people’s lives. From a critical perspective it seeks to illuminate how nations’ territorialized collective memories have been interwoven with one another through processes and practices of cross-referencing, imitation, confrontation and competition. Its specific focus is the deterritorialization of mnemonic discourse on colonialism, war, and genocide since World War II.
Beyond this, our project is predicated on an expectation that the vernacular memories of historical actors are both more generous and more eclectic than the forms of official (“cultural”) memory associated with national narratives, and that by uncovering and giving voice to those vernacular memories we can find a way out of “memory wars” characterized by conflict and competition. A collaboration among scholars from across the globe, the project will allow us both to deconstruct the prevailing Eurocentrism in memory studies and to contribute to global memory practices that foster mnemonic solidarity and dialogue. What is at stake are these questions: how can we go beyond the bounds of national, territorial, and ideological memory formation? And which approaches do we need to take in order to spur the transformation of the global memory formation into one where solidarity takes precedence over competition?
The Mnemonic Solidarity project accordingly has the following objectives: First, the project promotes the democratization of critical and scholarly discourse by shifting the focus of study and the center of representation from official documents and records under the control of the powers that be to the experiences and testimonies of the powerless. Memory studies which acknowledge the agency and elicit the voices of subaltern and marginalized historical actors, irrespective of where they were positioned in moments of historical trauma (whether as “victims”, “perpetrators” or “bystanders”), are essential to the democratization of both narratives and resources.
This allows us (second) to re-read the forms and manifestations of “official memory” as inherently contested. This calls for reconstructing historical memory formations in terms of the tension between official and vernacular memories as well as between concurrent vernacular memories, while being as critically attentive to our own purposes in studying “memory” as we are to those of the “memory makers”.
Pursuing this strategy within the global memory space adds a third “party” to the process of memory construction, namely the other national or regional histories which act as a point of reference or store of language and imagery as memories become entangled. The project includes studies of memory cultures and practices in Europe and the Atlantic, but one of our objectives is to critique the centrality of European narratives (notably the Holocaust) from a post-colonial perspective while at the same time analysing their structuring force. The project is unique in studying developments in other parts of the world, including Africa and the Middle East, and especially in its focus on East Asia (Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia) as a transnational memory space. Here, we aim to articulate what sets East Asian memory regimes apart from others as well as how they have drawn on Western models of “memory contest”, bringing East Asia into critical dialogue with the world in ways that can can help foster less confrontational approaches to a shared past.
Ultimately, “Mnemonic Solidarity: Colonialism, War, and Genocide in the Global Memory Space” seeks to explore the possibilities of coexistence of, and dialogue among, competing memories and to build a global memory space that enables their reconciliation. Thus, alongside the critical scholarly agenda set out above, the development of new memory practices is central to achieving the project’s objectives. Participants in the project include memory practitioners – museum professionals and creative artists – and the scholarly work of the project will be complemented by collaborative exhibitions and public events that test the possibilities of mnemonic exchange and solidarity. While the publication programme of the project includes volumes of scholarly essays, we are also committed to disseminating the project’s findings to a global public through published and web-based media.