Appropriating Memory: Negotiating and Performing Memory in the Museum Landscape

Lead Research Organisation: Birkbeck College
Department Name: European Cultures and Languages

Abstract

Over the last decades, in response to feminist, postmodern and postcolonial critiques, the modern museum has been radically re-posited in the cultural arena. These changes in museological discourse have resulted in new museums which aim to invite reflection on the representational and mediated quality of histories and geographies, and on memory as a complex aesthetic and rhetorical artifice. By granting a voice to what has been left out of the dominant discourses of history, diversified and sometimes even incompatible narratives have supposedly been granted a place in museums that seems no longer to aspire to any totalizing synthesis.

The new museums thus redefine their functions in and for communities not simply by changing their narratives but by renegotiating the processes of narration and the museal codes of communication with the public. They define themselves not just as institutional or disciplinary spaces of academic history or geography, but as places of memory, exemplifying the postmodern shift from authoritative master discourses to practice-related notions of memory, place, and community. New museums want to be seen as forums of the communicative memory of the victims and survivors by collecting and displaying donated memorabilia and oral testimonies of witnesses. In these museums individual life-stories are attributed significance beyond the purely private: autobiographical story-telling is part of the museum's newly perceived function of giving voice to the individual fate and transforming bystanders into 'secondary witnesses'. The key feature of these new museums is that they deploy strategies of applied theatrics to invite emotional responses from visitors: to make these empathise and identify with individual sufferers and victims, or with their living contemporaries inhabiting alternative modernities, as if 'reliving' their experience, in order to thus develop more personal and immediate forms of engagement.

The monograph will not concentrate on single case studies, it aims to provide an overview over the museums responses to major changes in our remembrance cultures, e.g. the prominent role of trauma and empathy in so-called memorial museums, but also on the changing perceptions and discussions concerning nostalgia and the notion of heritage. The monograph attempts to probe the political and aesthetic claims of the shifts in exhibiting practices associated with the transformation of traditional history museums into 'spaces of memory'. The emphasis here is on the role of different media and art forms in the transmission of memory and on questions of their gendering. The monograph will draw together issues which are very much at the forefront of scholarly discussions in Memory and Museum Studies and will benefit both research and teaching.

Planned Impact

While working on this project I have organised and participated in research projects, workshops and conferences in which both museum theorists and practitioners came together to develop new impulses for curatorial and outreach practice. In my experience museum theory and curatorial practice are strongly connected - not least through the 'textualisation' of museums themselves. Museum theory and practice share the same desire for self-reflexivity which must be reconciled with traditional notions of the museum as a public educator and as a catalyst of social reform.

My stay as a Visiting Fellow at the Humanities Research Centre at ANU (Canberra, Australia) in 2005 provided me with unique opportunities to meet artists working on commemoration and re-enactment projects. Several of the HRC organised conferences in that year focused on these questions and they fostered my interest in the role of different media and art forms as technologies of memory. Even though it became clear that theorists and artists do not always see eye to eye on how difficult pasts should be commemorated, I think that my monograph will explore some common ground which will enable both sides to profit more from these encounters.

Through my postgraduate and PhD students, who work on related topics, I have established contacts with a range of museum practitioners based in London, but also in other UK and European cities. My aim is to use this monograph to create the foundation for future co-operations between our university based research culture and those museum practitioners.

The AHRC funded networking project 'After the Wall. Representing and Remembering the GDR', for which I was on the steering committee, held two workshops in which museum directors, curators and guides from museums such as the GDR Museum (Berlin), the Documentation Centre of Everyday Culture in the GDR (Eisenhuettenstadt), the Berlin Wall Memorial and Documentation Centre and the Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen Memorial took part. These participants wished to extend our exchanges beyond the limits of the project, and my repeat visits to those museums are an integral part of my workplan for my proposed project. Our discussions with Stefan Wolle, head of research at the GDR Museum, were conducted while the museum was in the process of major refurbishment. Since October 2010 they have not only doubled but also revised their exhibition, not least in response to the scholarly reception and impulses they received in the first few years of their existence. Axel Klausmeier, director of the Bernauer Strasse Wall Memorial in Berlin, which is still in the process of a major redevelopment, has been keen to discuss the problems which arise when a memorial museum has to serve different memory communities.

The monograph will not only be a testimony to the productivity of these encounters, but will furthermore prove to be a valuable source for museum practitioners wishing to engage with questions of how new trends in remembrance culture are reflected in recent museological theories.



Publications

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Arnold-De Simine S (2018) The stories we tell: uncanny encounters in Mr Straw's House in International Journal of Heritage Studies

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Arnold-De Simine S (2015) The Ruin as Memorial - The Memorial as Ruin in Performance Research

 
Description My research examines how very different types of museums and heritage sites use the prism of memory to encourage visitors to relate to the past. I have pointed to problematic ethical implications of these practices which have to do with who is represented and how. I question if the mediations of traumatic memories necessarily foster empathy and/or an increasingly ethically responsible behaviour outside the museum environment.
I completed my monograph with the support of a grant under the AHRC Fellowship scheme: Mediating Memory in the Museum, published with Palgrave Macmillan in their prestigious Memory Studies Series in October 2013.
Exploitation Route My book publication has resulted in wide-ranging interest both from academia - I received invitations to give two keynotes (two Argentinian newspaper articles reported about this conference and my talk) and talks (at Universities in Cambridge, Warwick, Southampton, at the Jewish Museum Berlin/Germany) - but also from museum and heritage practitioners. I was consulted as advisor for the SS Robin heritage project at Royal Victoria Dock, London, worked with curators at various German museums and at the IWM in the context of their revamp for the centenary of the FWW and with the Holocaust Educational Trust.
My book is 'Key Reading' on a range of modules, e.g. the Cultural Memory option at King's College, London.
The international significance of my research has been recognized by a number of invitations to participate in the steering committees of Research Centres (for example the Centre for the Study of Cultural Memory (CCM), London), to act as UK representative for the European funded COST ACTION, and to be a member in AHRC-funded Networking Projects (Silence, memory and empathy, 2012-13).
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description My research is situated at the interface of museum and memory studies where I adapt and re-work a wide range of memory theories. I engage critically with how collective memory reflects emotional and ideological investments in the past and investigate how museum practitioners have used different theories around memory, trauma and empathy within the museum context. My research examines how very different types of museums and heritage sites use the prism of memory to provide access to the past. I have pointed to problematic ethical implications of these practices which have to do with who is represented and how. I question if the mediation of traumatic memories necessarily foster empathy and/or an increasingly ethically responsible behaviour outside the museum environment. I was an active member of two AHRC funded networks, 'After the Wall: Representing and Remembering the GDR' (2009-10) and 'Silence, Memory and Empathy in Museums and at Historic Sites' (2012-2013), bringing together academics, museum directors, curators and guides from Germany and the UK. I convened the first workshop of the 'After the Wall' network to foster a comparative approach to theoretical paradigms of collective memory. My research is internationally recognised within the museums and heritage sectors in the UK, Europe and further afield (South-America, Australia). I have contributed to the development of new exhibitions in three German museums, the Imperial War Museum and elsewhere by providing advice on how to connect in nuanced ways with visitor responses to complex issues raised by exhibitions. For example, the head of research at the GDR Museum, Berlin, informally consulted me in March 2009 while the museum was in the process of major refurbishment and extension. Following my advice on the need to embed the exhibition's focus on everyday life in the context of political oppression in the GDR, he increased the amount of background information on the political structures and the economy of the GDR as well as the oppression by the state and opposition to it, doubling the size of the exhibition when it reopened in October 2010. The Dokumentationszentrum Alltagskultur der DDR, Eisenhüttenstadt, (Documentation Centre of Everyday Culture of the GDR) opened its new exhibition in March 2012 which reflected my suggestions to its director for addressing unresolved tensions in GDR remembrance culture by making communicative memory more accessible to younger audiences. The exhibition now includes recordings of eyewitness accounts and their object stories, personal stories representing different memory communities and portraying the different effects of historical forces on individuals. The Bernauer Strasse Wall Memorial in Berlin has to serve memory communities with different interests and investment in the past and combine different forms of remembrance. I analysed in great detail the problems which arise when a memorial museum has to serve memory communities with different interests and investment in the past and combine different forms of remembrance. I facilitated a discussion which allowed the memorial to both reflect its position in the field of commemorative landscapes as an historic and authentic "Berlin Wall-Site" and introduce a completely innovative language of design for commemorative cityscapes. Within the UK, I have encouraged dialogue between museum practitioners, educators and academics in memory studies and museum studies and have advised several agencies on issues relating to memory and heritage. I co-organised the Empathy and Memory Studies Conference (Birkbeck, 23 June 2012) and subsequently worked with the Digital Learning Officer at the Imperial War Museum (IWM) who leads a project to develop online resources for schools linked to the Centenary of the First World War, which are available via the IWMs website. This involved exploring the impact of digital media on the presentation of sensitive material and their findings were presented at the conference 'Challenging Memories: Silence and Empathy in Heritage Interpretation' (July 2013). I have also advised on an HLF funded project to turn the last remaining steam coaster SS Robin into a heritage site as part of the regeneration of the Royal Docks in East London. I was also a member of the International Partnership and Mobility (IPM) Scheme "Commemoration, New Audiences and Spaces of Memory in Latin America's Southern Cone: Trans-cultural Dialogues in the Wake of Loss" funded by the British Academy (2013/14) which aimed at a knowledge transfer between colleagues from South America and British scholars working on trauma sites. Two national Argentinian newspaper published articles about the conference and my keynote. From 2013 to 2017 I have been UK Representative for the EU-financed research network COST Action IS1203 (European Cooperation in Science and Technology): In Search of Transcultural Memory in Europe (ISTME) which has allowed me to build new networks and collaborations.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description AHRC Research Network 'Silence, Memory and Empathy in Museums and at Historic Sites' (2012-2013) 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
Department Silence, Memory and Empathy
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution I collaborated with Charlie Keitch (Digital Learning Officer, Imperial War Museum) who was leading a project to develop online resources for schools linked to the Centenary of the First World War, available on the IWMs website. This involved exploring the impact of digital media on the presentation of sensitive material. Our preliminary findings were presented at the conference 'Challenging Memories: Silence and Empathy in Heritage Interpretation' (July 2013).
Collaborator Contribution no partners were involved
Impact Collaborative talk with Charlie Keitch (IWM, London): 'Interpreting the First World War Through Digital Media', International Conference 'Challenging Memories: Silence and Empathy in Heritage Interpretation', Buckfast Abbey (17-19 July 2013) 'Between Memory and Silence, between Family and Nation: Remembering the First World War through Digital Media', in Beyond Memory: Silence and the Aesthetics of Remembrance. Ed. by Jay Winter and Alexandre Dessingué. London: Routledge 2015, pp.143-162.
Start Year 2012
 
Description International Fellow of the The Frankfurt Memory Studies Platform 
Organisation Goethe University Frankfurt
Country Germany 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The platform has been initiated by Professor Astrid Erll and I have collaborated on talks, conferences and publications.
Collaborator Contribution One of the international fellows, Vered Vinitzky-Seroussi, invited me to give a talk at the GIF Workshop 'Going Home: Familiarity, Memory and Atmosphere in German and Israeli Museums' (Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 4-6 January 2017). I participated as a partner in a Horizon 2020 bid Reflective-2-2015: 'Emergence and transmission of European cultural heritage' (May 2015) with Barbara Toernquist-Plewa, another International Fellow. Unfortunately the bid wasn't successful.
Impact The Frankfurt Memory Studies Platform (FMSP) is an initiative of the Forschungszentrum für Historische Geisteswissenschaften (FzHG) and brings together people and projects from history, sociology, literature, arts, media studies, psychology, and other relevant disciplines in a dialogue about memory. It wants to shape the future of memory studies by developing and discussing new research questions and new methodologies.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Nordic Network: New First World War Memories - tectonics of memory in Europe 
Organisation University of Copenhagen
Country Denmark 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Core member of and active participation in a series of three "exploratory networks" and a publication.
Collaborator Contribution Yuliya Yurchuk, Eleonora Narvselius, Alexandre Dessingue and Tea Sindbaek have secured a Nordic Network grant for a series of three so-called "exploratory networks" and a publication and are organising these events.
Impact This is a multi-disciplinary collaboration with colleagues from history, film, literature and media studies, cross-cultural and regional studies. There will be a publication (journal special issue). I have already co-authored publications with two network members, Alexandre Dessingué and Tea Sindbaek: Between Memory and Silence, between Family and Nation: remembering the First World War through Digital Media', in Beyond Memory: Silence and the Aesthetics of Remembrance. Ed. by Jay Winter and Alexandre Dessingué. London: Routledge 2015, pp.143-162. Co-authored with Tea Sindbaek, 'Between Transnationalism and Localization: The Pan-European TV Miniseries 14 - Diaries of the Great War', Image & Narrative 18, No. 1 (special issue 'The Audiovisual Production of Transcultural Memory in Europe', guest edited by Astrid Erll and Ann Rigney) (forthcoming 2017)
Start Year 2015
 
Description UK Representative for the EU-financed research network COST Action IS1203 (European Cooperation in Science and Technology): In Search of Transcultural Memory in Europe (ISTME) 
Organisation European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST)
Country Belgium 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution From 2013-2017 I was UK Representative for the EU-financed research network COST Action IS1203 (European Cooperation in Science and Technology): In Search of Transcultural Memory in Europe (ISTME) and this has enabled me to establish my own research networks. Through the contacts gained in the European-funded COST Action I have been invited to act as partner in a Horizon 2020 bid REFLECTIVE-2-2015: Emergence and transmission of European cultural heritage together with Professor Barbara Törnquist-Plewa, Lund University, Sweden.
Collaborator Contribution Conferences and publications fully funded and organised by different European universities over a period of four years.
Impact One major outcome was the establishment of the new Memory Studies Association for which I was invited to join the Advisory Board (http://www.memorystudiesassociation.org/people.html) Publications: I have contributed to a chapter on (2015) 'Between Memory and Silence, between Family and Nation: Remembering the First World War through Digital Media', in Beyond Memory: Silence and the Aesthetics of Remembrance, eds Jay Winter and Alexandre Dessingué, 143-162. London: Routledge. I have co-authored a journal article with 'Between Transnationalism and Localization: The Pan-European TV Miniseries 14 - Diaries of the Great War', Image & Narrative 18, No. 1 (special issue 'The Audiovisual Production of Transcultural Memory in Europe', guest edited by Astrid Erll and Ann Rigney) (forthcoming 2017) Talks at Conferences and Workshops: GIF Workshop 'Going Home: Familiarity, Memory and Atmosphere in German and Israeli Museums' (Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 4-6 January 2017) International Conference COST Action 'In search of transcultural memory in Europe' (ISTME) Locating and Dislocating Memory (University College Dublin, 1-3 September 2016) Workshop 'Transforming the Museum: An Exploration' (27/28 May 2016, Jewish Museum Berlin) International Conference COST Action 'In search of transcultural memory in Europe' (ISTME)'The Audiovisual Production of Transcultural Memory in Europe' (Dubrovnik, 17-19 September 2015) International Conference COST Action 'In search of transcultural memory in Europe' (ISTME) 'Digital Memories, Digital Methods: Transcultural Memory in Europe Beyond Web 2.0' (Central European University Budapest, 28-30 September 2014) Organiser of the conference Mobile and Mobilising Memories: the Centenary and its Effects on First World War Memory in Europe (Birkbeck, 21 February 2015) First workshop of research network 'Marginal Memories? The Dynamics of Forgetting and Remembering in the First World War Centenary Commemorations' (University of Copenhagen, 21-22 August 2014)
Start Year 2013
 
Description Q&A at the Arcola Theatre 'Now This is Not the End' by Rose Lewenstein (8 June 2015) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact An audience of around 100 watched the play which centred on transgenerational transmission of trauma around the Holocaust. Many stayed for the Q&A afterwards which sparked a lot of debate around the different ways memories of the Holocaust are passed on to later generations, it turns out that many present were second or third generations of Holocaust survivors.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Consultant for the SS Robin in the Royals charity (May - November 2013) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Over several months I acted as consultant for the SS Robin in the Royals charity to revise the Interpretation Plan for a Heritage Lottery Fund funded project that will convert the world's oldest complete steam coaster, SS Robin, into a visitor experience. The project was part of a regeneration plan for East London's Royal Docks. In this capacity I worked closely with the Trust's lead project managers and volunteers, shaping ideas, developing narratives and providing advice on the interpretation of onboard exhibitions. This also formed part of the REF impact narrative submission.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.ssrobin.org/
 
Description Roundtable Discussion - 7/7 Memorial Tavistock Square - 9 March 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Roundtable Discussion - 7/7 Memorial Tavistock Square - 9 March 2016
panel discussion on the plans to memorialise 7/7 at Tavistock Square and the possible consequences of these plans for the square's other memorial traces and markers. The panel brings together some of those who were first on the scene and later investigated the bombing with those responsible for the recent memorial campaign and a number of academics working in the field of memory studies.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.tavistocksquarememorialtrust.org/news/panel-discussion-on-plans-to-memorialise-7-7-at-tav...
 
Description Teachers Training Event for the Holocaust Educational Trust (24 July 2014) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact I was asked to conduct a Teachers Training Event for the Holocaust Educational Trust, about 50-60 teachers were present and engaged actively with my ideas around Holocaust Memorial Museums, we had a stimulating discussion afterwards and the Trust reported back to me that teachers were very impressed with the event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014