The Politics of Amnesia and Postwar German Memory Culture

Presented at an international conference entitled ‘The Politics of Amnesia: Germany and Beyond, 1800-2018’, Pembroke College, Cambridge, 4 July 2018.

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.” 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.”

This paper explored various ways in which scholars might use the idea of ‘places of amnesia’ as an interpretative key to understanding different aspects of post-war German memory culture.