Germany's Memory Mainstream

Germany's Memory Mainstream
11 September 2020, 10.00am - 5.00pm
Call for Papers
Bedford Room, G37, Ground Floor, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

James Young’s much-cited dictum that, when it comes to Germany’s memory of dictatorship, the debate is the most valuable outcome, has encouraged research to focus on the disagreements and controversies generated by memorials and museums across Germany. This symposium, to be held at the Institute of Modern Languages Research, University of London, on 11 September 2020, asks what can be gained if we switch the focus from controversy and struggle to their less spectacular outcomes: the routine activity of institutionalized memory in Germany and the work of the professional cadres who run and support it. For instance, while the negotiations over Munich’s new documentation centre were long and fraught, it took only weeks from its opening for it to be recommended in lists of ‘Top 10 things to see in Munich’, suggesting that tourist practices can very readily absorb a socially controversial past. Memorial sites that might once have been run by volunteers who felt unsupported and marginal now have a staff of professional historians and guides trained in memorial-site pedagogy. Politicians routinely endorse exhibitions and participate in memorial ceremonies.

Of course, the renewed threat of far-right thinking, the gradual changeover of generations, and Germany’s changing demographics mean that Germany’s memory of dictatorship is unlikely ever to reach a steady state. The symposium proposes, however, that any institutionalized field necessarily has aspects of steadiness, routine, consolidation, and automatization, and that there is potential for new insights if these aspects are singled out and examined. This symposium therefore looks askance at German memory culture, seeing it from the perspective of the very ‘stability’, ‘routine’, ‘norms’, and ‘industrious activity’ that intellectual voices worry about. We propose that it must be possible to study these characteristics without immediately reading them negatively. How do professionalization, financial security, staunch support from the political centre, and integration into mainstream popular and high culture affect memory work in Germany? Speakers are asked to consider what can be learned from viewing these aspects of memory culture – at least provisionally – not as contested, threatened, or stale and awaiting reform, but as mechanisms of routinization and stabilization that project current norms into the future. We plan to publish a selection of the papers.

Keynote speakers: Professor David Clarke (Cardiff University) and Professor Bill Niven (Nottingham Trent University)

Abstracts (c. 300 words) for a 20-minute paper in English, incl. a short bio should be sent to, by 1 April 2020.

Full text of Call for Papers


Jane Lewin
020 7862 8966