Polish-German Post/Memory: Aesthetics, Ethics, Politics

Indiana University (Bloomington), April 19-21, 2007

Organizing committee:
Prof. Justyna Beinek, Indiana University (conference chair)
Prof. Bill Johnston, Indiana University
Prof. Kristin Kopp, University of Missouri, Columbia
Prof. Joanna Nizynska, Harvard University

Conference description

In the aftermath of the fall of the communist government in Poland and of
the Berlin Wall in Germany, historians of both countries have brought new
perspectives for examining post-war Polish-German history, particularly the
flight and expulsion of Germans from Polish lands. These new perspectives
have their counterparts in literary treatments of and references to the
separation of Poles and Germans as well as the publication of numerous
memoirs by those who experienced the atrocities of the war and the post-war
events. The result has been a re-examination of this period of Polish-German
relations which has contributed to a public debate over the meaning of this
shared history. In the course of this debate, established notions of guilt
and innocence, fact and fiction, justice and forms of redress are all

This interdisciplinary conference addresses how this history has been
configured over the course of the postwar period. 

Although we understand the flight and expulsion of the Germans as a
historical event, in organizing this conference we wish to consider the
types of meta-narratives that have shaped Polish-German cultural and
political relations.  We are specifically interested in the ways Poles and
Germans have configured and politicized their respective histories of
traumatic events. What, politically and culturally, was at stake in
promoting certain paradigms of cultural memory at various moments in postwar
history?  What aesthetic, ethical, and political strategies were employed in
transmitting specific social constructions of cultural memory to subsequent

In the expectation that the analysis of these issues will influence
discussions in trauma and memory studies as well as other fields addressing
German-Polish history, we plan to use the conference as the starting point
for an edited volume of essays.

To share in this exploration of the culture of memory (and the memory of
culture), we invite the participation of scholars working on literature,
film, and performance as well as on the material culture, cultural studies,
politics, ethics, and religion.  We seek papers on the following topics: 

Presentation Topics:

I. Memory in/as Objects: Material Culture

-circulation of objects: e.g., flea markets with their promotion and
circulation of things post-German in Polish culture (including Hitleriana)
-collecting: the culture and ethics of private and institutional collecting
-co-habitation: “things post-German” in Polish homes 

2. Memory as Representation: Literature, Film, Photography, Theater, Performance

- how do artists use appeals to memory/post-memory to position themselves
and their work at various moments in the postwar period?
-artistic memories and artistic post-memories (including artistic dialogues,
e.g., Gunter Grass with Stefan Chwin and Pawel Huelle)
-family albums (e.g., Christa Wolf)
-staging memory, re-creating the unknowable
-(post) memory and the imagination 

3. Memory and Time

-what was at stake for German and Polish families in assuring that certain
constructions of memory were passed on to subsequent generations?
-how do victims remember? How do their children and grandchildren? How does
the memory pass through generations? How does the family story translate
into the public sphere?
-how do the survivors’ children create their post-memory (e.g., how do they
deal with the gaps in the story)? How do they represent this post-memory?
-what are the tropes of this representation (e.g., the notion of the
“trace,” which is often applied to the Gdansk school of prose)
-what are the dynamics of post-memory? What shapes it? What creates it in
the Polish/German context? 

4. Memory and the City: The Creation of Space 

-the positions of Gdansk, Szczecin, Kolobrzeg etc., on the cultural maps of
Poland and Germany
-the tourist industry; tourism as a sign/aspect of (post-)memory
-how has memory/post-memory been mobilized to promote tourism?
-the urban markers of memory and the identity of the city
-imaginary cities (e.g., the re-creating of German cities like Breslau in
Polish mystery novels) 

5. Memory and Politics: Memory as Symbolic Capital

-memory and the state (e.g., the institutionalization of memory and identity
-memory as political capital (e.g., what’s at stake in presenting a
historical event as a foundational trauma?)
-official memory vis-à-vis unofficial memories (institutionalized memory vs.
private memories)
-the sanitation of memory and its effects during communism (Poland and DDR)
-divided memory in divided Germany
-memory and (post-)memory in the EU 

6. Memory and Healing

-redemptive/compensatory/therapeutic narratives and their function in Polish
and German culture (including political problems arising from redemptive
-the presence and preservation of “good memories;” where are they? 

7. Extending the Paradigm: Polish/German discourse and Academia

-what is the theoretical/ethical/political/critical value of the discussion
of Polish-German issues; what can other disciplines learn from this? 
-what is the future of Polish/German memory?

Abstract submission
The conference organizers seek abstracts of approximately 250 words to be
submitted electronically together with a brief resume to: Justyna Beinek
([log in to unmask]), Bill Johnston ([log in to unmask]), Kristin Kopp
([log in to unmask]), and Joanna Nizynska ([log in to unmask]). The
deadline for submissions is September 1, 2006; the results of the review
process will be announced by October 1, 2006.   

The German Studies Call for Papers List
Editor: Stefani Engelstein
Assistant Editor:  Megan McKinstry
Sponsored by the University of Missouri
Info available at: