New Dimensions of Identity Politics: Contested Memories in History Museums of the 20th Century

192
DOI: 10.20542/0131-2227-2020-64-5-16-32
I. Semenenko (semenenko@imemo.ru),
Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences (IMEMO), 23, Profsoyuznaya Str., Moscow, 117997, Russian Federation

Abstract. The author considers politics of memory as a key component of identity politics promoted by the nation state and views social history museums representing memories of the recent past as key actors involved in national identity formation. A comparative analysis of a range of new exhibitions recently set up in European museums of 20th century history in countries with a story of empire, a postcolonial legacy and a fascist past reveals important common features in presenting difficult pasts. This includes resorting to narrative history and to individual memories, appealing to everyday life as a depositary of national memory and a reflection of national identity, and promoting the representation of a growing cultural diversity of contemporary societies. Common to new exhibition spaces is also the domination of visual means of representation over artifacts in line with attempts to promote an emotional dialogue with the individual visitor and to engage with various communities bearing different collective memories. Today, museums are actively involved in reconsidering difficult pasts and in looking for new possibilities to present contested memories. The study also reveals notable differences in the agenda and in the intensity of public discussion of difficult national pasts, in the level of political engagement of various actors and their commitment to promote identity politics focused on social cohesion and development. These differences reflect changes in political culture and political identity societies in Western Europe and Russia are currently undergoing. The research appeals to “new museology” and critical heritage studies and promotes a wide approach to understanding identity politics and a methodology of its critical assessment. Empirical data were collected by the author during her visits to leading West European and Russian social history museums and complemented by data available on museum websites.

Keywords: identity politics, memory politics, historic narrative, political discourse, interest groups, communities, difficult past, contested memories, museum of social (contemporary) history, empire, postcolonialism, nation state, national identity, cultural heritage, “new museology”


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For citation:
Semenenko I. New Dimensions of Identity Politics: Contested Memories in History Museums of the 20th Century. World Eсonomy and International Relations, 2020, vol. 64, no. 5, pp. 16-32. https://doi.org/10.20542/0131-2227-2020-64-5-16-32



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