Memorialization, Historiography & History Education

Collective memories built around war and violence play an important role in the process of rebuilding positive ties between the different segments of a society. "Particularly crucial in such a process are the public and private rituals and narratives that sustain collective and individual memories of the history, causes and course of mass crime, and allow the re-interpretation and re-assertion of the belief systems. This is a complex and ambiguous process in which the symbolic world and the imaginary play a decisive role in the transformation of the meanings of history and of belonging.".[1] Activities conducted around memorials, historiography and history education constitute an important part of that process and may promote either conflict or peace. They are based on dynamic social and psychological processes studied by a broad range of disciplines across time and cultures.
The first part of this writing aims to provide a few reference points on the concepts commonly used when referring to memorialization, historiography and history education.
Memorialization and history work may have a variety of purposes. History can be used or mobilized to promote either conflict or peacebuilding.
Most post-conflict societies have experienced how, in the hands of capable ethnic entrepreneurs, past events (factual or fictional) could be used to illustrate historical wrongs, humiliation and exploitation and to mobilize people for political purposes. Peacebuilding is a highly politicized process in which conflicting visions of the past (including the recent history of war) and future shape discourses and practices in multiple ways. Working on these dimensions is crucial as they refer to key intangible aspects of peacebuilding related to issues of culture, dignity, human relationships and collective identities. In peacebuilding processes, memory and history work contribute more specifically: to account for a variety of narratives and complex truths (memory politics in the aftermath of violence); to assist survivors and support transitional justice efforts; to support reconciliation processes and the construction of a re-imagined political community; to pave the way for future generations and prevent future violence.
These functions are based on a number of programs and activities which are detailed. The writing proceeds by introducing the main actors (both insiders and outsiders) engaged in these processes and some of the issues created by their interaction, including the ambivalence of the role played by state and political actors.
As complex processes, memory and history work are the subject of many debates and also face a number of implementation challenges. Several set of issues common to the two fields are first presented: controversial versus consensual memories; the constant rewriting of history and transformation of memorials; the politicization of history and collective memory; remembering and forgetting; the sociopolitical conditions of memorial and history work; the existence of a knowledge gap; and the issue of sequencing. A series of implementation issues specific to each sector are also detailed.
Preliminary elements to develop case studies, as well as useful resources and references to additional information are provided at the end of the subsection.

1. Beatrice Pouligny, Simon Chesterman, and Albrecht Schnabel, eds., After Mass Crimes: Rebuilding States and Communities (Tokyo, New York and Paris: United Nations University Press, 2007), 12.

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