Thursday, 2 October 2008

history, memory & all that jazz...

So I have, excitingly, been asked for the first time to devise a course of my own, entirely from scratch. All these syllabuses I've been posting up here have been for course titles & descriptions devised by other people. This one is all mine.

They asked me last week what I'd like to do, and since for various logistical reasons involving competition from WWII, my preferred topic of WWI was off the menu, this is what I have chosen. Natty title to be decided.

Why does it matter what US Presidential candidates did in the Vietnam war? How does Apartheid affect South African politics today? How far has Schindler's List shaped popular memory of the Holocaust – and how is the Holocaust remembered differently in Israel, Germany and the US? What do the World Wars mean today in the victorious nations – and what does it mean to those who were defeated? Memories of past events live on and continue to affect the present in politics, society and culture. Focusing on these examples along with events including the Armenian Genocide, the Spanish Civil War, decolonization and the G8 in Genoa in 2001, this seminar course will explore the relationships between history and memory, and the ways in which societies and cultures remember and represent the past. Students will consider representations of the past in popular culture, especially film and television, as well as commemorative sites such as memorials, monuments and museums.

Often collective memory is based on popular culture rather than the results of historical study. By juxtaposing academic history with popular representations, we can interrogate the ways in which memory is constructed. The course will range widely over both European and non-European events, with a special attention to Italian examples which will enable us to make the most of our setting here in Rome. Visits to memorials and museums in the city will provide concrete examples of the processes of remembering and forgetting. The course will be of interest to communications and media majors as well as those in history and the humanities.

Week 1: Introduction to the study of memory
  1. Social memory, cultural memory and personal memory – a theoretical introduction
  2. Understanding the construction of memory: film, TV, literature, art, memoirs, memorials and commemoration

Week 2: Commemoration and the formal presentation of memory

  1. War memorials and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
  2. Remembrance days: public holidays in Europe, the US, Israel and Australia

Week 3: Changing forms of presentation: from eye-witness accounts to comedy shows

  1. The First World War as seen by memoirists and the "war poets"
  2. The First World War as comedy: Blackadder Goes Forth (1989)

Week 4: Sites of memory

  1. Pinning down the past: the theory of "lieux de memoire"
  2. Battlefield pilgrimage: visiting the battle sites of the two world wars

Week 5: Divided memories I – Colonialism

  1. Remembering Empire: British and Indian memories of the British Raj
  2. Decolonization: the French-Algerian war, The Battle of Algiers, and the controversy over the Paris Massacre of October 1961

Week 6: Divided Memories II – Italian case studies

  1. The Piazza Fontana bombing and the death of Giuseppe Pinelli,1969: rival presentations and conflicting memories
  2. The G8 at Genoa in 2001 and the death of Carlo Giuliani

Week 7: Memories of division: remembering civil war

  1. The Spanish Civil War: From Homage to Catalonia to the Historical Memory Law of 2007
  2. Civil war in Italy 1943-5

Week 8: Memory and war: Remembering occupation

  1. The "beastly Hun": the German occupation of Belgium during the First World War
  2. The Nazi occupation of Rome, the deportation of the Jews and the SS headquarters at Via Tasso

Week 9: Memory and war: remembering victory

  1. The Second World War in British and American film I
  2. The Second World War in British and American film II

Week 10: Memory and war: remembering defeat

  1. Germany and the First World War: From All Quiet on the Western Front to Nazi revisionism
  2. Japan and the Second World War: From Kamikaze survivors to the School Textbook controversy

Week 11: Remembering victims: the Holocaust

  1. The Holocaust in American Popular Culture: from Art Spiegelman's Maus to Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List
  2. Holocaust commemoration in Israel

Week 12: Remembering perpetration: Guilty memories

  1. Nazism and the Holocaust in German memory
  2. Remembering the My Lai massacre in the USA

Week 13: Forgetting and denial

  1. Denying the Armenian Genocide: Turkish intellectuals and the problem of EU candidacy
  2. Denying the Holocaust: "revisionism", the David Irving trial and the criminalisation of denial

Week 14: Controversial memories and contemporary politics

  1. Memories of Apartheid and today's political climate in South Africa
  2. The Vietnam war in contemporary US politics


dongshow said...

Wow, that class looks excellent, I'd sign up for it in a moment. I wish they'd offer similar fare up here in Alaska. I'm assuming you'll be watching The Battle of Algiers and reading Homage to Catalonia? If so I think those are excellent choices, Homage to Catalonia is extremely under read by American students and the Battle of Algiers seems virtually unknown. I took a similar class at the U of Utah with a French focus and it was excellent, offering the opportunity to branch off into all types of areas.

Andy H said...

Sounds excellent! I think if you could include something about the Rroma too it would be really interesting, since the idea of memory is so different in that culture (and to contrast the Rroma collective memory of the holocaust to the Jewish would be very interesting) Broadly speaking there really isn't the idea of history in Rrom culture, and memory is as old as the oldest living member of the clan. There is virtually no Rroma memory of the holocaust now, for example.

(This book is an excellent introduction: )

Anonymous said...

Woot! No one offered me anything like that an an undergraduate, more's the pity.

Will you share the reading list with us?
- dV

philcafc said...

Fun looking module, I recently did "The Vietnam War in History and Memory" which spanned everything from the Vietnam War Memorial to Hollywood, and veterans' accounts to Iraq comparisons.

America had been happily (and I use that term loosely) forgetting it 'til Reagan came along and tried to justify it as a necessary war, then that re-opened all the old wounds. Can't remember what he said about My Lai though..

Spangly Princess said...

Andy, that's a great idea and something I confess I am deeply ignorant about. But it's a great alternative model of social memory and thus really important. I shall try to check out that book (though I remember the title from a plagiarism case! apparently she nicked big chunks of theoretical material from someone, unacknowleged)

My question is this: if Rroma traditions are wholly oral, and writing stuff down or otherwise formally commemorating it is outside their culture, is "right" to leave the Holocaust to slide out of view? or should one say that the Holocuast is such an important part of their history - as clearly it is - and thus commemorate it even at the cost of violating their own cultural norms?

Reading lists: yes, once I've put them together properly.

duke said...

we lost very sad....after a good game in the cl we are back to the problematic roma again....its been decades since ive seen my Giallorossi this bad...

Spangly Princess said...

mate the CL game was fucking abysmal, we have been ropey every game this season win or lose, and now we have to play Inter without Mexes or Panucci. I am profoundly depressed about it.

Albert Herring said...

Until you're bottom of the league, I claim priority moaning rights.

Wondering whether the Bologna station bombing and Aldo Moro might fit in to your local bit as well.

bernardlion said...

Brilliant course spangles, only wish I could sign up to it! I agree with Andy that something on the Roma would be excellent, especially if you could tie it in with how they're treated today in Italy and elsewhere (you're the expert of course but one would imagine that one of the reasons they're still so badly treated now is because what happened to them during WW2 has been largely forgotten).

And remember I have Blackadder Goes Forth on DVD if you need it!

Azul said...

Looks great, well done.

(I presume you'll be mentioning Spain's Valley of the Fallen?)

Garibaldy said...


is it just me, or is that thing on Genoa a tad out of place amidst all the other events?

I'd be very surprised if there were no Roma memory of the Holocaust. What there might be is a reluctance to talk, which is not necessarily the same thing, especially in today's world of "negotiations" with centres of power, anthropological study etc.

And you'd better not be reading fucking Homage to Catalonia, or I'll be very cross.