'Places of Amnesia' and Postwar German Memory Culture

Presented as part of a panel on ‘Places of Amnesia’ at ‘Thinking through the Future of Memory’, the inaugural conference of the Memory Studies Association, University of Amsterdam, 5 December 2016.

Places of Amnesia (lieux d’amnésie): Exploring the Relationship between Remembrance and Forgetting in 20th and 21st-century European Memory Culture

Conveners: Helen Roche & Elena Zezlina (University of Cambridge)

Pierre Nora’s notion of the lieu de mémoire has swiftly become one of the most fruitful and widely-used meta-concepts in memory studies today, as well as “one of the most successful [exports] of French historiography.”[1] The term itself, whether translated into other languages (such as the German Erinnerungsorte) or appropriated into wider, transnational contexts, has inspired many different methodological and theoretical approaches and projects, both within and beyond Europe. 

More recently, a group of researchers at the University of Cambridge have put forward a novel concept, which is both based on, and which darkly mirrors, Nora’s lieux de mémoire: namely, “Places of Amnesia”, or lieux d’amnésie. They seek “to establish whether specific sites can be viewed as the loci of forgetting [and] to attend to the ways in which knowledge is forgotten, ignored, silenced or expunged.”[2]

The project as a whole aims to raise questions such as:

– How the intersections of personal biography with historical events influence the way in which social groups remember and forget; 

– what happens to knowledge of events when there are no witnesses left;

– how shared narrations about the past can contribute to, or even engender, amnesia;

– how ceremonies and public events filter memory and amnesia, and

– whether literature can also be an amnesic instrument.

This approach has already encouraged new and creative insights, encompassing both western and non-Western perspectives, and investigating lesser-known areas and socio-political contexts.

Our panel explores a number of approaches which “Places of Amnesia” can usefully illuminate, particularly in post-bellum and post-revolutionary contexts. Featuring researchers with expertise in post-war Germany (Helen Roche, Philipp Ebert), post-war Italy (Elena Zezlina), and post-Balkan-war Yugoslavia (Gruia Badescu), our presentations demonstrate the wide applicability and flexibility of lieux d’amnésie as a fresh concept in memory studies, as well as touching on its broader methodological and theoretical implications.


Gruia Badescu (University of Oxford) – Urban Disruptions: Between Place-making and Places of Amnesia

Helen Roche (University of Cambridge) – “Places of Amnesia” and Postwar German Memory Culture

Philipp Ebert (University of Cambridge) – Forgetting and Political Legitimacy in Democratic Transition: The Case of 20th-Century Germany

Elena Zezlina (University of Cambridge) – The Placing of Amnesia on the Northeastern Border of Italy Post-1945

[1] Benoît Majerus, ‘Lieux de mémoire – A European transfer story’, in Writing the History of Memory, ed. Stefan Berger, Bill Niven, London 2014, 157-71.