The European memory complex: introduction
Memory has become a major preoccupation – in Europe and beyond – in the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. Long memories have been implicated in justifications for conflicts and calls for apologies for past wrongs. Alongside widespread public agonising over ‘cultural amnesia’ – fears that we are losing our foothold in the past, that ‘eye-witnesses’ of key events are disappearing, and that inter-generational memory transition is on the wane – there has been a corresponding efflorescence of public (and much private) memory work. Europe has become a memoryland – obsessed with the disappearance of collective memory and its preservation. Europe’s land-and city-scapes have filled up with the products of collective memory work – heritage sites, memorials, museums, plaques and art installations designed to remind us of histories that might otherwise be lost. More and more people live or work in or visit sites of memory; and increasing numbers are engaged in quests to save or recuperate fading or near-forgotten pasts. Local history societies, re-enactment groups and volunteer-run heritage projects flourish. Books of reminiscences and sepia photos of localities and community cram the shelves of libraries and bookstores. So too, do books about our fixation with remembering and the past.