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“Memory, mémoire, erinnerung”: Interdependencies in French and German Scholarship in Classics—and their Echoes in the Anglophone World

Tanja Itgenshorst

Scholars across all scientific disciplines forge their vision of the world both according to their own individual perspectives and in the larger context of their national academic discourses. National scientific cultures have a significant influence on the activities (and research results) of the individual scholar, based on specific epistemological traditions, academic institutions, and their hierarchies. Besides this intra-national perspective, a transnational perspective can be taken into account, since ideas, research themes and methods of investigation can cross national borders and give rise to an international conversation.

This paper will deal primarily with this transnational level by trying to understand why and how certain research themes and epistemological concepts manage to transcend (some) national borders. I will discuss one particular example, namely the reception of the French concept of Public History, the Lieux de mémoire (“memory sites”), in German (and European) scholarship in Classics. This concept, presented to a larger French-speaking public since the late 1980s by Pierre Nora, has been received in the German speaking scientific community from 2001 onwards, eventually with a lasting impact on the study of Classics, but based on very different attitudes to the past and its commemoration.

For instance, while Nora’s original project was motivated by his diagnosis of a loss of memory on the part of the French nation, inter alia due to the disappearance of rural traditions and the impacts of decolonization, the editors of the German equivalent (2001), Étienne François and Hagen Schulze, stated (among other things) nearly the opposite for their own nation, i.e. an all too vivid (painful) culture of memory marked by the recollection of the Nazi regime.

The research field of "collective memory" in Classics was opened up by a study on “cultural memory” in Antiquity by the German Egyptologist Jan Assmann (1992), whose incentives were likewise forged by specific forms of “national” memory in Germany. Eventually, the editors of the German publication (2006 - ) of the “Erinnerungsorte der Antike”, Karl-Joachim Hölkeskamp and Elke Stein-Hölkeskamp, referred to Nora as well as to Assmann and François/Schulze. Moreover, by incorporating the concept of ‘intentional history’ discussed in the German academia since the 1990s, they created an amalgam of various epistemological traditions. This complex genealogy of memory concepts applied to the Ancient World in German academia was thus decisively marked by contemporary discussions of public history, resulting from a particular exchange of concepts and ideas between French and German scholars.

This exchange of ideas has not been echoed in the discourses of the Anglo-American scientific communities in Classics. Although Anglophone research on memory cultures, especially in the Roman world, has been flourishing since the 1990s, it seems less indebted to theoretical models and concepts of (spatial) memory discussed by modernists in the Anglophone world. The recent debate between Peter Wiseman and Karl-Joachim Hölkeskamp on the specific character of public or popular memory at Rome (in K. Galinsky, Memoria Romana 2014) testifies to these specific differences.

Session/Panel Title

Thinking through Recent German Scholarship on the Roman Republic

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