[UPDATE] Nation States between memories of World War II and contemporary European politics

full name / name of organization: 
University of Nottingham

Papers are invited for an international and interdisciplinary symposium entitled 'Nation States between memories of World War II and contemporary European politics', to be held in June 2012 in Nottingham .

At the most recent European elections the UK Independence Party's campaign centered on the iconic image of Winston Churchill, through whom UKIP – which eventually emerged as the second strongest British party contesting these elections – sought to articulate its staunch anti-EU politics. Not surprisingly, such discursive/ visual strategies were criticized – by, for example, a Conservative Party politician on the BBC's Question Time (21 May 2009) – for being inaccurate, thoroughly de-contextualized and historically distorting. In Georgia meanwhile, near what some consider the European continent's most easterly boundaries, a popular musician and leading figure in the opposition movement has drawn deeply disconcerting comparisons between his country's World War II history and its present state (Deutsche Welle TV, 4 June 2009). And in Belgium, at the heart of Europe, the chairman of the FDF, Olivier Maingain, compared the policies of the Flemish regional government to 'practices worthy of the German occupation' (La Libre Belgique, 31 March 2010), whereas Filip Dewinter of Vlaams Belang accused the francophone parties of seeking Lebensraum in Flanders (VRT TV, 3 June 2010).

These are but three of innumerable instances – some of them highly controversial and much-discussed, others part of mundane everyday discourse – of the past being invoked to make sense of current contexts and, crucially, to articulate a political position. More narrowly, it is particularly the history of World War II, and within it memories of invasion, occupation, oppression and genocide, that are commonly used – or misused – as points of alleged comparison with or analogy for present circumstances. Amongst the latter, questions of EU politics and European integration, the 'fate' of nation states in times of economic globalization and the current financial crises, the much-debated European constitution and, more recently, the Lisbon reform treaty are objects of particularly widespread concern and debate across Europe.

We now invite abstracts for papers examining these issues in any European context, both within and beyond the EU's current borders. More precisely, we invite contributions that examine the contemporary instrumentalization of memories of World War II for rhetorical purposes of comparison in the context of national or transnational power struggles. Each paper is thus expected to contain three key components:
1. an empirical focus on a particular European context;
2. an analysis of publicly circulating and/ or contested interpretations of World War II history;
3. an examination of how such historical narratives are articulated and mobilized for particular ideological purposes in the context of contemporary national/ European politics.
We intend to build on Lebow et al.'s The Politics of Memory in Postwar Europe (2006, Duke University Press), Heer et al.'s The Discursive Construction of History (2008, Palgrave Macmillan), Jan-Werner Müller's seminal edited collection on Memory & Power in Post-War Europe (2002, Cambridge University Press), and on Pakier and Stråth's recent collection A European Memory? (2010, Berghahn): firstly, by extending the geographical reach of our analyses through a wider range of empirical case studies; and, secondly, through an analytical focus on the current salience of historical narratives commonly used to interpret, predict and respond to some of the social, political and economic challenges widely perceived to define the here and now.

We anticipate that contributions will examine such contemporary 'politics of memory' across a wide range of potentially relevant data: from political controversies to everyday language; from relevant media discourse to representations of World War II in art, film, novels, biographies etc; from school textbooks to readers' letters to newspaper editors; from party political manifestos to public rituals of commemoration; from life histories to current debates about the relative absence of – and need for – a pan-European public sphere.

Moreover, there is a host of potentially relevant conceptual issues and theoretical questions we invite contributors to relate their analyses to, including any of the following: How are memories of the Holocaust invoked in contemporary discussions surrounding European integration? More broadly, how, where, by whom and for what purposes are memories and narratives of World War II selected and articulated today? How and where are such narratives of the past contested? What is the relative relevance of national and European politics, of globalization and the current economic crisis to any such invocations of – and interpretative struggles over – the past? Can competing historical narratives be meaningfully described – in Gramscian terminology – as 'hegemonic' and 'counter-hegemonic' respectively, and, if so, in relation to which 'scale' of contemporary politics (i.e. local, regional, national, European, global)? Which wider theoretical debates (e.g. regarding 'social memory'; theories of nationalism; discourse analytical approaches to studying language in social context; conceptualizations of civil society etc.) advance our understanding of such contemporary interpretative contests over World War II history? How do such ideological struggles over memory connect with contemporary debates about migration, multiculturalism, integration and identity politics? As academics, what are our intellectual and ethical responsibilities in responding to historical inaccuracies, distortions, omissions or mis-uses?

The conference will take place at the University of Nottingham from 27-29 June 2012. A key note address will be given by Dr Henning Grunwald (Vanderbilt University).

The deadline for abstracts of original, previously unpublished work to be sent to Bram.Mertens@nottingham.ac.uk and Christian.Karner@nottingham.ac.uk is 1 August 2011. Abstracts should be between 500 and 600 words in length and provide an outline of the context the discussion will examine, of the kinds of materials the paper sets out to analyze, and of the conceptual questions to be addressed. We hope to publish an edited collection of select conference contributions with Transaction Publishers. The time frame for this edited collection will be extremely tight, so potential contributors will need near-finished papers by the time of the conference and will have to submit final drafts for consideration by the editors within two weeks of the conference. Submissions will also need to be formatted fully in line with Transaction guidelines, which will be circulated after the deadline for abstracts.