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Memory Matters!? Collective Memory and Foreign Policy

Project description

There are many examples of war, revolution, and dictatorship in the 20th century, the ‘age of extremes’ (Eric Hobsbawm). And now there are also many publications in the field of history that do not focus purely on the course of events but instead also consider how people dealt with them afterwards. These works are concerned primarily with questions about perception – questions that are of particular interest to historians who approach the past from the perspective of modern cultural history. Their research shows that attributions of meaning can shape history, as the people involved act and make decisions on the basis of them. In this context, memory culture research is interested in how and on the basis of which contemporary interests different collectives (families, professional groups, generations, nations, international organizations, etc.) refer to the past.

The memory boom that has been seen in humanities and social sciences has not yet gained much of a foothold in the discipline of international relations. However, since the constructivist and cultural turns in the discipline, the dynamic, historically contingent development of immaterial structures – such as political institutions and norms, national role models and identities – has become a major object of analysis. These structures are understood and examined as frameworks for the perceptions and, therefore, the decisions of individual and collective actors, particularly in reflectivist approaches (constructivism, feminism, poststructuralism, postcolonial and critical theories).

Drawing on this foundation, this project, which began in the winter semester 2016/17, looks at the relationships between processes of collective memory and foreign policy decisions made by individual and collective actors: How have the internal dynamics of collective memory processes affected foreign policy decision-making in the past and how do they affect it today? Conversely, how have individual and collective actors responsible for foreign policy affected processes of collective memory in the past and how do they affect them today? By pursuing these overarching questions, the project aims to gain new insights into the construct character of foreign policy, which must be historicized, and to shed greater light on the way in which historical structures are produced, reproduced, and disseminated, but also changed.

The project team will use selected case studies related to historical events in the 20th century to question assumptions, theoretical considerations, and terminological concepts, develop theories, and open up new comparative perspectives. The two researchers in charge will also include aspects of the project in their teaching and plan to hold an academic conference to discuss and broaden the perspectives mentioned.

Concluding conference

In May 2019, Prof Dr Friedrich Kießling, Dr Caroline Rothauge (Chair of Contemporary History of the KU) and Andreas N. Ludwig (Chair of Interational Relations) organise a two-day conference on "International Relations and Memory". The conference will be held in German.

Read the conference programme here.

Project heads

Andreas N. Ludwig, MA (International Relations)

Dr. Caroline Rothauge (Modern and Contemporary History)