Memory, Cinema and Polish Deathscapes: Re-membering the Holocaust

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Geography


With the current political climate of resurgent far-right elections across Europe and the passing of the generation that witnessed the Holocaust, old fears that lessons of the past might fade have been rearticulated as concern about the longevity of the Holocaust as memory. This proposed PhD project asks how cinematic depictions might function to sustain the memory of the Holocaust for those who did not live through it, forming mnemonic frameworks that resonate with public culture. It is thus an examination of the potential memorial role of cinema and possible post-cinematic media developments like virtual reality, the nature of contemporary memory and mediation, and practical pedagogical approaches to commemoration. The project seeks to examine these developments through a geographical lens, questioning how cinema mediates landscapes of Holocaust memory across Europe.

The theoretical grounding of the PhD will build primarily on two bodies of work. First, recent work on post and prosthetic memory which suggests that individuals can take on past events through which they did not live as personal memory through affective transference in experiential encounters with museums, photographs, or cinema (Landsberg, 2004; Hirsch, 2012). The second body of work finds its base in the historian Pierre Nora's classical study of French memory (1989), which argues that deliberately consecrated sites of memory substitute for the absence of spontaneous memory in landscape; that is, memory is not encountered but has to be made. In dialogue with work on haunting (Till, 2005; Gordon 2008), affect (Brennan, 2004; Navaro-Yashin, 2012) and cinema (Rauch, 2017; Past, 2019), this project asks whether, and how, landscapes of memory might be mediated by mobile and immersive sites of memory such as cinema and documentary film making.

Methodologically, this project proposes an iterative ethnographic approach. Preliminary attention will be paid to chosen cinematic depictions such as as "memory-texts" (Kuhn, 2002:299), asking how films code the Holocaust as memory and how such framing is encountered by audiences. Archival analysis will provide reflexivity and historicised attention to the relationship between cinematic depictions and their reception. The bulk of the research will emphasise the intervention of cinematic depictions in a chosen memoryscape in Europe, paying attention to tourists' and practitioners' engagements with particular films as a means of remembering the Holocaust. This will be conducted through (self-)guided walking tours and ethnographies of museums and other relevant facilities within the chosen landscape(s).


10 25 50