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Memory, Heritage, and Public History

History sells and the Heritage industry is booming. Serialised historical fiction like Downtown Abbey attracts large audiences while millions of people are researching the history of their families. This is not surprising. History has a lot to do with how we see ourselves, with our identity. We want to know where we come from, what made us what we are now, and what made our world how it is. This week’s lecture and seminar will look into this relationship between memory, history and identity.

Essential reading

Jerome de Groot, Consuming History: Historians and Heritage in Contemporary Popular Culture (2009), Chapter 1: ‘The public historian, the historian in public’), pp. 17-35

Pierre Nora, ‘Between History and Memory: Les Lieux de Mémoire’, Representations, vol. 26 (1989), 7-24

Case study: Victoriya Sereda, ’Politics of Memory and Urban Landscape: The Case of Lviv after WWII'.



How do you explain the recent history and memory boom?

Why are governments so keen on controlling the teaching of history?

What is the purpose of public history?

Case study: What role does the ‘politics of memory’ play in Western Ukraine?


Further reading

Paul Ashton and Hilda Kean (eds.), People and their Pasts: Public History Today (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009)

Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘The Use and Abuse of History’, in: The Completed Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, vol. 2, part 2. Edited and translated by Oscar Levy (London, 1909)

Delphine Bechtel, ‘Multi-ethnic Lviv since 1991: a city of selective memories’ (, last accessed on 6 September 2019)

Christoph Mick, ‘Lviv – a multi-ethnic city’ (, last accessed on 6 September 2019)

Hilda Kean and Paul Martin (eds.), The Public History Reader (London: Routledge, 2013).

Jay Winter, ’The Generation of Memory: Reflections on the “Memory Boom“ in Contemporary Historical Studies’, (, last accessed on 6 September 2019)

Jay Winter, Remembering War: The Great War Between Historical Memory and History in the Twentieth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006)

Truffle Hunt

Collective memory binds groups together and is shaped by rituals, heritage sites and monuments, everyday communications, school education and mass media. The focus will be on national collective memory. In France, Pierre Nora coined the term lieux de mémoire (sites of memory) and created an inventory of sites which played and play an important role in French collective memory. Such lieux can be geographical sites, events, books, national days, symbols, monuments, and much else beside. What these sites have in common is that (almost) all French people know them. You could try to identify British, English, Scottish, Welsh, or Northern Irish sites of memory: for example, Armistice Day, a national war memorial or a local war memorial (where national and local collective memory conflate), Big Ben, the Battle of Trafalgar, Stonehenge, the King James Bible, etc. You might ask:

How did they become sites of memory?

Who set them up?

What meaning(s) do they project?

Are they contested?

Do they have a unifying or divisive effect?

Who is united (or excluded) by them or excludes themselves?

What rituals are connected with them?

How did their meaning change over time?

Possible sources are images, newspaper articles about the sites and rituals connected with them, descriptions in schoolbooks and the mass media. You could also analyse websites dedicated to these sites of memory.

Public history is the communication of historical knowledge to the wider public. Historians, journalists, government agencies, heritage organisations, museums, and many other groups and institutions participate in conveying public history.

Why are we experiencing such a history boom?

What is the purpose of such activities??

What does history have to do with identity?

Other possible sources are TV history documentaries and feature films (for example Blackadder or Downtown Abbey) and their reviews in the press, radio broadcasts on historical topics, press articles on historical topics (especially during anniversaries), outreach activities by academic historians, popular history books (including the Terrible History series), online exhibitions, museums and their websites.