Places of Amnesia – Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Forgotten Pasts

Places of Amnesia is an interdisciplinary research group organized at the University of Cambridge in 2014. According to their introduction, the group’s aim is to investigate „how societies forget and seek to establish whether specific sites (people, events, knowledge) can be viewed as loci of forgetting or, recalling and critiquing Pierre Nora’s lieux de mémoire, be studied as lieux de amnésie.“ Their first conference took place between April 5­6, 2016, with over 60 presenters from 20 countries ,and two keynote speakers Carlo Ginzburg and Paul Connerton. The main aim of this conference was to develop a dialogue between experts, established scholars and young researchers in the field of critical memory studies.

The general problems that the presenters touched upon in their case studies were rich, diverse and important. We heard lectures on the rift between personal memory and cultural/collective amnesia; the memorial complexity of border­ and contact­zomes; places of memory turning into places of oblivion; the topography of collective amnesia; repression of historical memory as personal or political denial; the diversity and complexity of memoryscapes of societies; the production of societal amnesia through epistemological and political oppression; sensitive heritages and taboo heritages; art and architecture as the vehicle of remembrance, the re­discovery of forgotten pasts; acts and rituals of communal remembrance; political change as shift of memorialization; perpetrator memory; collective remembrance and transitional justice. The conference was not exclusively Eurocentric regarding the topics covered, numerous presentations dealt with post-colonial memory/amnesia. However, the majority of the lectures focused on European phenomena, mainly related to the Second World War, the Holocaust and the Soviet era. Romania, Poland and the post­Soviet region were the most frequently mentioned geographical locations in the presentations.

In my presentation, I dealt with the oppressive epistemological mechanisms creating social and collective amnesia. I spoke about Béla Osztojkán’s grand novel titled There Is Nobody to Pay Jóska Átyin, that represents both the process and the consequences of forced amnesia. According to the artistic­historical testimony of the novel, the Roma in Hungary have not only been the subjects of existential, but also of epistemological persecution. Osztojkán’s work presents the fundamental need of an individual and of a group enduring cataclysms to own their historical narratives.

The special guests and keynote speakers of the conference shared with us chapters of their forthcoming books. Carlo Ginzburg spoke about unintentional revelations, those unexpected instances, when the past shows itself and speaks out to the specialist, the historian. Paul Connertonc also spoke about an unintentional carrier of memory: the body. As the title of his lecture was a question – Can human body be a place of amnesia? ­ his answer was a definite yes.

Places of Amnesia

Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Forgotten Pasts

April 5­6, 2016

University of Cambridge

Organized by: Places of Amnesia Research Group; supported by the Cambridge School of Arts and Humanities, the Centre for Doctoral Training (previously Centre for East European Language Based Area Studies), the ‘Museums and Controversial Collections. Politics and Policies of Heritage­Making in post­colonial and post­socialist Contexts’ project of the Romanian National Authority for Scientific Research and Innovation.

For detailed program visit

Comments are closed