Memory, identity and cultural change
Location G
Date and Time 11th December, 2008 at 13:30


Elizabeth Carnegie (University of Sheffield)
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Short Abstract

This panel considers the role of memories in challenging or shaping socio-cultural and political narratives and counter narratives at the individual, community or national levels.

Long Abstract

This session will explore how memories can be appropriated or kept alive for political purposes, to reinforce a 'sense of place' or to create a unified story for cultures. It will consider the location, contexts and effects of remembering, exploring who is doing the remembering, why and with what results. This discussion of memory as discourse and practice might be particularly salient within postcolonial societies such as those in the Caribbean where colonial 'memories' become normalised as the 'truth' about the past. In addition, given that tourism represents the largest socio-cultural global phenomenon to have emerged especially within the last few decades, the session will also explore how memory can operate within tourism as a powerful discourse, silencing certain narratives about the past and privileging others, and further, how these discourses relate to tourism practices. Finally, the impacts of memories on individual or communities' sense of ownership of the past and their role in the shaping of the present may also be examined. Papers are therefore invited that address:

•The reclaiming of cultural memories, sacred memories and stolen memories

•The normalising role of memory especially within postcolonial contexts

•Memory shaping within cultural institutions and organisations such as museums

•The role of memory, myth and storytelling in tourist - orientated performance

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


"I was instructed not to talk about [those things], but I was never forbidden to do". Relativising the GDR state

Author: Sabine Kittel (Newcastle University)

Short Abstract

In the focus of my paper are recollections of the socialist past within a political education office that deals with the official memory and historiography of the GDR. I will explore the tensions between personal memories of employees at this office and the surrounding authoritative discourse.


In my paper I want to discuss the negotiation of memories about a state and society which no longer exist, and the nature of which is highly contentious today. I will focus on recollections of the socialist past within a political education office that deals with the official memory and historiography of the GDR.

In 1991, shortly after the unification of Germany, the new federal Governments installed political education institutions. Initially, their assignment was to encourage liberal and democratic awareness. In the longer run the newly created institutions focused also on historical education to 'overcome' the legacies of a totalitarian Germany and to foster a new democratic culture. This was part of a wider development of an 'authoritative' image of the GDR as a communist dictatorship and accompanying discourses and structures.

The paper explores the tensions between personal memories of employees at this office and the surrounding authoritative discourse which became evident in life-story interviews and participant observation. As ordinary people - neither victims nor members of the civil rights movement - their personal experiences conflict to an extent with official versions of life in socialism. On the other hand, their current personal situation, workplace alliances and public discourses add profoundly to their remembering the socialist past. It will be highlighted how post-socialist experiences and current context patterned these retrospectives, thus creating a 'biographical illusion' (Bourdieu) with new preconditions: now the defense of biographical accomplishments.

The paper explores findings stemming from a research project on 'the social construction of the socialist past'.

Distilling the Anzac Spirit: the merchandizing and consumption in New Zealand of war images

Author: Gabrielle Fortune (University of Auckland)

Short Abstract

Images and icons of war veterans are being appropriated by commercial organisations in New Zealand to engender trust in products and services. In a climate of expanding national interest in, and political promotion of war service as a cornerstone of national identity, companies are capitalizing on the resulting cultural myths.


Anzac Day has been celebrated in New Zealand since 1916 and survives as a public holiday and national day of commemoration. Anzac Day was designed to remember New Zealand's (and Australia's) casualties at Gallipoli in 1915, but ceremonies have since incorporated the military service of men and women in all New Zealand's wars. Every town has a war memorial and on 25 April war dead are remembered at services at which dignitaries lay wreaths, the public wear poppies, and veterans their medals.

The acronym ANZAC was coined from the initials of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps made up of soldiers from both countries who fought together in World War I. Out of their joint war experience is said to have emerged an 'Anzac Spirit'; an identity for Kiwi soldiers at the time; and a national identity for their compatriots since.

This paper focuses on the ways in which memory of losses suffered during war is perpetuated and utilized in an atmosphere of growing national awareness and simultaneously is being appropriated and commodified. The memory of ANZAC is being exploited in a competitive commercial environment that is capitalizing on the reverence genereted by the sacrifice of war. Examples of advertising office equipment, property sales, beer, and the promotion of the 'Anzac Spirit' in popular culture, will be discussed and put in the context of current discourses surrounding national identity.

Myth, folklore and Kitsch: the Case of the Black Dog of Bungay

Author: David Waldron (University of Ballarat)

Short Abstract

The mythology of the Black Shuck has been a central identifying feature of community and cultural identity of the small Suffolk town of Bungay since the Victorian era. This paper traces the development of the mythology in relation to localised identity formation and regional ethnicity.


The attack on St Mary's Church in Bungay on August 4 1577 has become a centre piece of community identity and regional East Anglian folklore. The mythology surrounding the attack of the ghost dog Black Shuck have become an integral part of the community's sense of English local identity in the face of the pressures posed by globalization, economic development and rapidly changing ethnic and generational demographics. The mythology has also attracted international attention from ghost hunters, crypto-zoologists, folklorists and novelists leading to an integration of indigenous folklore and globalised popular culture. This paper is based on archival research of the development of the local folklore surrounding Black Shuck in relation to majour social and demographic challenges. In particular, this paper will focus on the use of the Black Shuck folklore to create a sense of eternal transcendent English ethnicity tied to the landscape and the use of supernaturalism to legitimate a folkloric construction of ethnic identity.

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Performing memory and transforming history in Australian Aboriginal activism

Author: Theresa Petray (James Cook University)

Short Abstract

Aboriginal activists constantly call upon memories to further their social movement. These memories, whether individual, familial, or national, are deliberately performed in both public and private spaces. The performance of memories helps to create a movement history and, thus, identity.


This paper will examine the performance of memories and the importance of history to Australian Aboriginal activists. During field work with Aboriginal activists in Townsville, North Queensland, I noticed the past was called upon regularly in both public and private spaces. Memories are visually and orally performed to make a statement to other activists and to the public. During rallies and protests, activists would remember previous decades of struggle; they recalled specific details of colonialism; and they referred to their own involvement over the years. Meetings and conversations had similar undercurrents, with more reliance on personal memories such as kinship ties to activists from earlier decades. The use of memory to legitimate a movement is not unique. Movements such as the gay movement or the environmental movement may be relatively young, but they constantly remind themselves and the public of the pre-cursors to their movements. A strong connection to history lends a sense of authority and importance to a social movement, and strong memories can be a powerful mobiliser. This paper will look at the ways in which activist performance of memory creates activist history, transforms Australian history, and cements movement identity.

Pictures of the Old People: Lamalama participation in technologies of memory

Author: Diane Hafner (University of Queensland)

Short Abstract

The paper reports on current research with Lamalama people of Cape York Peninsula, Australia, and discusses the way in which identity is embedded and sustained through interactions with ethnographic images depicting people, objects and practices of the past.


This paper addresses the role of museums in the shaping of memory. In a current team research project, we are collaborating with the Lamalama people of Cape York Peninsula in investigations of the Donald Thomson Ethnographic Collection held by Museum Victoria in Melbourne. The Collection contains many images of their forebears taken by Thomson in the late 1920s, when they still lived a relatively autonomous bush life before eventual removal by the state.

The Thomson images are the location of memory and associated discourses of recollection which the Lamalama use to plot the historical trajectory of their collective sense of 'family' and unity. In recognition of the close connection between meaning, objects, and their social location, we bring the people to the objects in their museum location and the objects to them on country. In doing so we seek to expand the museum beyond its institutional walls and more easily facilitate the relationship between the Lamalama and the proof of their past. The process of recall and identification so engaged is technologically mediated at all points.

Despite some unexpected difficulties, the Lamalama have remained resolute in their intention towards participation in the research, an active process through which they re-embed the knowledge contained in the Thomson materials in contemporary identifications. The paper focuses on discussion of these processes and the way in which the Lamalama are using the project to sustain their collective sense of self in an increasingly fragile social environment.

The Use of Memory as a source of Identity and Authenticity in Crypto-Jewish Culture

Author: Seth Kunin (University of Aberdeen)

Short Abstract

Memory rather than practice is the salient feature of crypto-Jewish identity. It provides the battle ground upon which authenticity is both challenged and validated. Memory also provides the basis upon which individuals can move between identities in the act of creating models of selfhood.


The study of crypto-Judaism in New Mexico has been highly contested, particularly because memory rather than practice provides the primary constituent element out of which individuals provide foundation for models of identity. As a culture of memory, the historical authenticity crypto-Judaism has been challenged by some scholars working within narrow folkloric and historical frameworks. The challenge creates a fascinating ethnographic field in which individuals seek alternative means to provide an essentialist basis for identity and therefore a more secure basis for authenticity.

The use of memory as the salient foundation also provides a fascinating field for examining cultural fluidity. This paper explores the relationship between memory, myth, and history. It suggests memory performs a similar role, creating the a basis for validating models of self. As such, like myth and history (albeit within a much narrower timeframe) memory is characterised by fluidity such that in dialectical relation with constructions of self it transforms (whether over the course of life or as the individual moves within different social and cultural contexts). The discussion highlights the fluidity of identity and the complex process by which identities are developed and transformed. It also demonstrates, in the context of crypto-Jewish practice, the ways in which practices are used and improvised on in relation to the fluidity of both identity and memory.

In a sense the paper suggests that crypto-Jewish identity is a prime example of 'post-modern' identity and further, that properly understood all identities are post modern is a similar sense.

Who owns a common past? Reflections on a collaborative cultural heritage project

Author: Nathalia Brichet (University of Aarhus)

Short Abstract

Taking the point of departure in a common cultural heritage project between Denmark and Ghana, this paper explores the notion of collaboration in the process of creating a ‘common past’.


Recently, a ruin of a former 19th century Danish plantation in Ghana was excavated, rebuild and turned into a museum. As a so-called 'Common Cultural Heritage Project' the reconstruction and the work on the exhibition were collaboratively led by the Danish National Museum and the University of Legon, Ghana. Besides preserving a physical trace of former Danish engagement on the West African coast, the project's goal was to tell visitors about the 'common past' of Denmark and Ghana - a past neither well known to people in Ghana nor in Denmark.

This paper explores some of the dominant and conflicting ways in which the past has been re-constructed and negotiated in the Common Cultural Heritage Project. One story, based on studies in the Danish archives, archaeological excavations and detailed architectural investigations of the ruin, emphasised the building as a Danish plantation in which local slaves were used as workforce. Another and contrasting story told by the people living around the site, inscribed the building as part of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. By focusing on the negotiation of these stories, I seek to explore the nature of the 'collaborative work' through which knowledge of the past is produced.