Remembering to forget
Forgotten memorials, foreign memorials, and those which encourage forgetting rather than remembering, will be examined by academics at the University of St Andrews today (1st March 2006).
Professor Bill Niven, of Nottingham Trent University, will deliver the public lecture ‘Memorials as a means of forgetting the past’. He will discuss memorials which have been torn down or replaced, and new memorials which seek to overcome the bias of one-sided memory.
He will also explore the ‘rededication’ of memorials, those which have been adapted to reflect current events and understandings, bringing their symbolism closer to what people actually think, feel and remember.
Professor Niven said: “Memorials are erected to remember and commemorate. As time passes, it seems, we become more aware of the one-sidedness of memorials, and seek to adapt or complement them in ways which reflect a plurality of memories. However, this attempt to integrate different memories can lead to ‘memory wars’, as one memory insists on its dominance over others.
“Memorials themselves get forgotten, and even torn down or dumped on rubbish-heaps (as happened in post-communist eastern Europe, and new memorials, which attempt to make us conscious of shifts in collective memory. So, instead of tearing down an old memorial which recalls something you would now rather forget, you put up a new memorial alongside it to expose the ‘falsity’ of the message embodied in the old memorial.”
Professor Niven, a St Andrews graduate, will mainly discuss German memorials, but also memorials in the Ukraine, Hungary, Britain and France, including the memorial for the Princess of Wales in Paris.
He continued: “Between 1945 and 1960, many memorials were built in West Germany commemorating both the war-dead, and those ethnic Germans who had been expelled from the eastern territories. Of course Germans would want to remember their own suffering. But in so doing they also helped themselves to forget: namely that Germans had supported Hitler and his ruthless war of perpetration.
“Memorials were emblems of one form of collective memory – and of the desire to repress and indeed smother another.”
The lecture, ‘Memorials as a Means of Forgetting the Past’, by Professor Bill Niven will be delivered on Wednesday 1 March 2006 at 4pm in room 216 of the Buchanan Building, Union Street, St Andrews. The event is part of the German Department Research Seminar series in co-operation with the IECIS (Institute of European Cultural Identity Studies). Members of the public are welcome.
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