Arbeitsbereich Geschichtsdidaktik / History Education, Universität Hamburg

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Commemoration and Types or Patterns of Historical Meaning-Making (Narrating)

25. November 2019 Andreas Körber Keine Kommentare

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(This is a text from last year’s dis­cus­sion with Sté­pha­ne Léves­que and Gabri­el Reich on nar­ra­ti­ve pat­terns’ role in reflec­ting on monu­ment and memo­ri­al poli­cy. I never got round to finis­hing ist. Sor­ry for the delay.)

In their texts and in the ear­lier dis­cus­sion (first on Public Histo­ry Wee­kly: Léves­que, Sté­pha­ne (2018): Remo­ving the Past?, then on Acti­ve Histo­ry CA: A new approach to deba­tes over Mac­do­nald and other monu­ments in Cana­da, Part 1 and Part 2), Léves­que sug­gested a model of dif­fe­rent levels of his­to­ri­cal com­pe­ten­ci­es fol­lowing Jörn Rüsen’s typo­lo­gy of nar­ra­ti­ve patterns.

While I agree that the­re is a lot of plau­si­bi­li­ty in a sequen­ti­al deve­lo­p­ment of the­se types of nar­ra­ting throughout (Wes­tern) histo­ry, and that the gene­tic type is the most com­plex and advan­ced one, I don’t find much plau­si­bi­li­ty in the idea that in the deve­lo­p­ment of stu­dent’ thin­king wit­hin their life­time, the tra­di­tio­nal type should have any prio­ri­ty to the other ones. Ins­tead, I think that stu­dents encoun­ter full-fled­ged nar­ra­ti­ves as well as simp­le state­ments of all types simul­ta­ne­ous­ly from the begin­ning, and will acqui­re them along­side each other — but only gra­du­al­ly learn to reco­gni­ze them for what they are, grasping their logic.

Con­si­der the fol­lowing graph:

© Andre­as Kör­ber 2018

It is to visua­li­ze the idea that incre­a­sing reco­gni­ti­on of chan­ge in his­to­ric time (the x‑axis) first leads to the deve­lo­p­ment of the tra­di­tio­nal type (asking for the ori­gin of the cur­r­ent­ly valid, in cloud 1), then the expe­ri­ence that what has ori­gi­na­ted can also perish again and the­re­fo­re asking for ori­gins is not enough, lead to the deve­lo­p­ment of the exem­pla­ric type, asking for pat­terns and rules behind the chan­ge on the sur­face (cloud 2), and only modern expe­ri­ence of increased/​accelerated chan­ge then led to the deve­lo­p­ment of the gene­tic type, asking for the direction.

Each of the­se pat­terns leads to dif­fe­rent expec­ta­ti­ons for the future. Initi­al­ly (green per­spec­ti­ve), the future may seem qui­te simi­lar from the pre­sent. What is per­cei­ved as having begun, stays valid. Only from the (later) blue per­spec­ti­ve, a pat­tern seems dis­cer­ni­ble, lea­ding to the expec­ta­ti­ons that the future will also yield simi­lar pat­terns of events as are detec­ted in the past. From the (still later) oran­ge per­spec­ti­ve, an (addi­tio­nal?) incre­a­se in their “magni­tu­re” can be per­cei­ved and its con­ti­nua­tion be expec­ted.
The graph also is to show that the rules and pat­terns as well as ide­as of ori­gins have not been ren­de­red obso­le­te by each new type, but are super­im­po­sed or inte­gra­ted into it.

I use this graph in my lec­tu­re. I now have added the small arrows. They are to indi­ca­te the lear­ning-neces­si­ties of a per­son wit­hin a rela­tively short time-span of life or even youth. While in pre-modern times, they only encoun­te­red the then-deve­lo­ped pat­terns (if the model is valid), in moder­ni­ty, they will have to use all pat­terns simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, in order not make sen­se differentially.

The idea of a homo­lo­gy is pro­ble­ma­tic in ano­t­her way, also. It might sug­gest that peop­le in anti­qui­ty (or pre-modern-times) were deve­lo­ped rather like child­ren or youths, not real­ly grown-ups. This idea is not new, but is very pro­ble­ma­tic. As you might be awa­re of, Rudolf Stei­ner, foun­der of anthro­po­so­phy, sug­gested that the “anci­ent” Greek had a men­tal age of about 7‑ye­ars-olds. And the­re was a very influ­en­ti­al Ger­man “didact” of histo­ry in the 19th cen­tu­ry (Fried­rich Kohl­rausch), who com­bi­ned a simi­lar idea of the homo­lo­gi­cal deve­lo­p­ment in the way peop­le con­cei­ved “god” with that of beco­m­ing of age. So only the modern man was real­ly “grown up” (and is was the Ger­mans who did so — very nationalist).

Becau­se of Rüsen’s idea of a “homo­lo­gy” in the sequence of deve­lo­p­ment of nar­ra­ting types bet­ween man­kind (phy­lo­ge­ne­sis) and indi­vi­du­als (onto­ge­ne­sis), Bodo von Bor­ries (and I as assi­stant to him) did a lar­ge-sca­le rese­arch in the ear­ly 1990s, were we pre­sen­ted stu­dents with items of dif­fe­rent typo­lo­gi­cal logic to dilem­ma-situa­tions, like Rüsen hims­elf has used for qua­li­ta­ti­ve rese­arch and for exp­lai­ning the nar­ra­ti­ve types. We did find a pre­do­mi­nan­ce of agree­ment to “tra­di­tio­nal” items with 6th-gra­ders (abt. 11 yrs), but found no line­ar deve­lo­p­ment. In fact, 9th-gra­ders see­med even to regress. All this is publis­hed in Ger­man only, I fear.

I would stron­gly sug­gest to dis­tin­guish bet­ween the his­to­ri­cal deve­lo­p­ment and hier­ar­chy of the­se pat­terns on the one hand and pro­gres­si­on in lear­ning on the other hand, for which I sug­gest the third dimension.

As for Lévesque’s revi­sed table of com­pe­ten­ci­es in a fur­ther com­ment in PHW and his eva­lua­ti­on that Gabri­el Reich is cor­rect in that the gene­tic type pro­vi­des no solu­ti­on to the ques­ti­on of whe­ther to keep or get rid of monu­ments: Do the­se types real­ly lead to spe­ci­fic poli­ti­cal posi­ti­ons — espe­cial­ly if they are always com­bi­ned? Or do they rather cha­rac­te­ri­ze part of their under­ly­ing under­stan­ding? I think the­re are dif­fe­rent posi­ti­ons and solu­ti­ons pos­si­ble by each nar­ra­ti­ve. The value of the dif­fe­ren­tia­ti­on of types of mea­ning making and nar­ra­ti­on is rather ana­ly­ti­cal than prescriptive.

And that is also the pedago­gi­cal value: I think the­se typo­lo­gies (your table and mine) can be used for clas­si­fy­ing and dis­cus­sing state­ments of peop­le in the poli­ti­cal deba­te. It will enhan­ce stu­dents abi­li­ty to reco­gni­ze the logics behind spe­ci­fic poli­ti­cal stan­ces. And it may well show that both sug­ges­ti­ons of kee­ping and of get­ting rid of can be under­pin­ned by dif­fe­rent types of nar­ra­ti­ve, but that would gene­ra­te may­be dif­fe­rent policies:

Take an examp­le from Gabri­el Reich’s patch, again: civil war monu­ments in Richmond.

One could argue for kee­ping the sta­tu­tes on Monu­ment Ave­nue on grounds of pure­ly tra­di­tio­nal thin­king: to mark the ori­gins of the spe­ci­fic sta­te of things. This is both pos­si­ble in par­ti­san ways (only “our” heroes), but also in a more “inclu­si­ve” form, asking for such monu­ment of both sides to be pre­sen­ted, to mark the ori­gin of the coun­tries “divi­si­on”. Equal­ly in tra­di­tio­nal mode (but with dif­fe­rent poli­ti­cal back­ground), one might call for their remo­val. If you hold that the divi­si­on they mark is no lon­ger given, they might be removed.

In exem­pla­ric mode (as I opi­ned ear­lier), one could speak out for the pre­ser­va­ti­on of the monu­ments on the grounds that they exem­pli­fy a cer­tain time and cul­tu­re which we can still con­si­der as “over­co­me”, but one can also argue for their remo­val becau­se they repre­sen­ted out­da­ted or poli­ti­cal­ly non-sup­por­ta­ble rela­ti­ons to the past, and that our time needs to find new ones, not “pro­gres­sed” ones, but such which reflect the “cha­rac­te­ris­tics of our time”.

I do agree that to hold a spe­ci­fi­cal­ly gene­tic view makes it hard to envi­si­on the who­le ques­ti­on as one of kee­ping vs. remo­ving, — but it does­n’t exclu­de it to the full extent.

If peop­le are thin­king pre­do­mi­nant­ly in gene­tic mode, expe­ri­en­cing the coun­try to having over­co­me that divi­si­on, they object to a tra­di­tio­nal logic they per­cei­ved the monu­ments to have. In this case, it would be the ten­si­on bet­ween one’s own gene­tic mode of thin­king and that per­cei­ved in the monu­ments, which would gene­ra­te a poli­ti­cal position.

If the gene­tic per­spec­ti­ve was upon how to impro­ve com­me­mo­ra­ti­on, one might ask for making such com­me­mo­ra­ti­ons “more inclu­si­ve”. This may have been behind erec­ting a monu­ment for Arthur Ashe among the con­fe­de­r­a­te gene­rals — not a very con­sis­tent move, though, given that is merely addi­tively com­bi­nes monu­ments. In fact, it crea­tes a “memo­ri­al land­s­cape” of a rather com­plex nar­ra­ti­ve struc­tu­re, part of which is tra­di­tio­nal (“heroes”) and exem­pla­ry (“each group”), but by doing so enfor­ces a new kind of tra­di­tio­na­li­ty (kee­ping the racial groups apart, assigning each “their own” tra­di­ti­on to hold up). So the inten­ded “pro­gress” by inclu­si­vi­ty (“An ave­nue for all peop­le”) may in fact have crea­ted a mul­ti-tra­di­tio­nal nar­ra­ti­ve. 1

But the­re are other pos­si­ble solu­ti­ons sug­gested by gene­tic thin­king.  The con­cept of past peop­le being “child­ren of their own time” is as gene­tic as it can get, refer­ring to a fun­da­men­tal chan­ge in time, so that morals and actions might be con­si­de­red incom­men­sura­ble across times. This con­cept has been used for exo­nera­ting past peo­p­les views and actions. On this ground, one might call it “useless”. But it isn’t. Gene­tic his­to­ri­cal thin­king ent­ails both — to reco­gni­ze the tem­po­ral chan­ge and moral and poli­ti­cal con­texts for past actions dif­fe­rent from ours, AND to reco­gni­ze that our own con­text is valid, too.

From this point of view, it may under­pin a pre­sent posi­ti­on trans­gres­sing the “keep/remove”-divide, name­ly to find ways of memo­ria­li­zing civil war “heroes” (and/​or “vil­lains” that is) that do NOT inad­vertent­ly invi­te for tra­di­tio­nal or exem­pla­ric heroic rea­ding, but spe­ci­fi­cal­ly marks the distance of time.

It is impe­ra­ti­ve, this thin­king goes, to keep the­se memo­ri­als, but not as heroic marks to the past or as ambi­va­lent mar­kers. One should not just remo­ve them, for that would put into obli­vi­on not only the past, but also the who­le dis­cus­sion and reflec­tions, the une­a­si­ness about its repre­sen­ta­ti­on which spar­ked the dis­cus­sion in the first place. Gene­tic thin­king would not be con­tent to just remo­ve the hero­ism (espe­cial­ly that of the wrong, side) with the effect to have no memo­ry at all, but would call for a memo­ria­liz­a­ti­on which spe­ci­fi­cal­ly marks the chan­ge bet­ween that time and ours today.

Again, take a Ham­burg examp­le. In an ear­lier con­tri­bu­ti­on to this dis­cus­sion I alrea­dy hin­ted to coun­ter-memo­ria­li­sa­ti­on. One of the best examp­les is here in Hamburg-Altona:

Monu­ment and Coun­ter-Monu­ment next to at St. Johan­nis-Church in Ham­burg-Alto­na 2

Next to Altona’s St. Johan­nis Church, a monu­ment had been erec­ted in 1925 for the mem­bers of the 31st Infan­try Regi­ment in WW1, com­mis­sio­ned by sur­vi­vors of that regi­ment. Each of the three sides of the column-like monu­ment made of clin­ker fea­tures an over­si­zed, half-naked figu­re, repre­sen­ting a war­ri­or with some antique weapon.

The inscrip­ti­on below reads “To the fal­len for a gra­te­ful memo­ry, to the living for a remin­der, to the com­ing genera­ti­ons for emu­la­ti­on.” 3. Clear­ly a very tra­di­tio­nal pro­to-nar­ra­ti­ve, both exten­ding the own war­ri­or­s­hip of the sol­di­ers into anti­qui­ty and cal­ling for its emu­la­ti­on, lacking any trans­cen­dence. The for­mu­la was coi­ned by August Böckh for Fried­rich Wil­helm III of Prus­sia, and was used on monu­ments remem­be­ring the “libe­ra­ti­on wars” against Napo­le­on, but also later on tho­se for the “uni­fi­ca­ti­on wars” of 1870/​71. After the los­ses of mil­li­ons in WW1, its usa­ge — espe­cial­ly of the third ele­ment — is remar­kab­le, albeit not all­tog­e­ther uncom­mon 4.

In the mid-1990s, the church’s con­gre­ga­ti­on com­mis­sio­ned a coun­ter-memo­ri­al, crea­ted by Rai­ner Tied­je, con­sis­ting of three acryl-glass-pla­tes, each direct­ly con­fron­ting one of the war­ri­ors, depic­ting “dark, emacia­ted, fear­ful crea­tures”, as the explana­ti­on on the page “denk​mal​ham​burg​.de” sta­tes (thus on http://​denk​mal​ham​burg​.de/​k​r​i​e​g​e​r​d​e​n​k​m​a​l​-​a​n​-​d​e​r​-​s​t​-​j​o​h​a​n​n​i​s​k​i​r​c​he/, my trans­la­ti­on). It con­clu­des “In the cen­ter the hero­ism and the exalta­ti­on, in front of it it the hor­ror of war. A suc­cess­ful mix­tu­re.” (my translation).

Gegen­denk­mal zum 31er Krie­ger­denk­mal (aus: Gedenk­stät­ten in Ham­burg. Weg­wei­ser zu den Stät­ten der Erin­ne­rung an die Jah­re 1933 – 1945. https://​www​.gedenk​sta​et​ten​-in​-ham​burg​.de/​g​e​d​e​n​k​s​t​a​e​t​t​e​n​/​g​e​d​e​n​k​o​r​t​/​g​e​g​e​n​d​e​n​k​m​a​l​-​z​u​m​-​3​1​e​r​-​k​r​i​e​g​e​r​d​e​n​k​m​al/

To me, this coun­ter­me­mo­ri­al is not just a (exem­pla­ric-mode) jux­ta­po­si­ti­on of (trad­tio­nal-mode) hero­ism and hor­ror of war, but the­re is fun­da­ment­al­ly gene­tic part in it: the coun­ter-memo­ri­al does not merely point to timeless hor­rors of the con­se­quen­ces of war­fa­re, but leans on a visu­al voca­bu­la­ry estab­lis­hed in Holo­caust memo­ri­als: The “suf­fe­ring men” who wrig­gles with pain (and fear) on eye-level with the war­ri­ors, look like “musel­men”, the com­ple­te­ly debi­li­ta­ted and immi­se­ra­ted inma­tes of the Nazi con­cen­tra­ti­on camps. In its ico­no­gra­phy, the coun­ter-memo­ri­al belongs to the genera­ti­on of monu­ments which coer­ce the view­er, the public to find and ans­wer, not pro­vi­ding one them­sel­ves, eit­her in being abs­tract or — as here — by visua­li­zing death and disap­pearan­ce in any but heroic form 5. It is this fea­ture, using a visu­al code depen­ding not only abs­tract­ly on hind­sight but on con­cre­te know­ledge about what such hero­ism-pro­pa­gan­da did help to bring about, tog­e­ther with the effec­ti­ve pla­cing which ren­ders impos­si­ble “com­me­mo­ra­ti­on cere­mo­nies, at which the plaques are not noti­ced”, which indi­ca­te to a spe­ci­fic gene­tic thin­king below it, try­ing to trans­gress the thin­king of the time.

Anmer­kun­gen /​ Refe­ren­ces
  1. Cf. https://​onmo​nu​men​ta​ve​.com/​b​l​o​g​/​2​0​1​7​/​1​1​/​2​0​/​a​n​-​a​v​e​n​u​e​-​f​o​r​-​f​o​r​-​a​l​l​-​p​e​o​p​l​e​-​h​o​w​-​a​r​t​h​u​r​-​a​s​h​e​-​c​a​m​e​-​t​o​-​m​o​n​u​m​e​n​t​-​a​v​e​nue []
  2. Pho­to by 1970gemini in der Wiki­pe­dia auf Deutsch, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://​com​mons​.wiki​me​dia​.org/​w​/​i​n​d​e​x​.​p​h​p​?​c​u​r​i​d​=​1​9​5​2​3​318[]
  3. See http://​denk​mal​ham​burg​.de/​k​r​i​e​g​e​r​d​e​n​k​m​a​l​-​a​n​-​d​e​r​-​s​t​-​j​o​h​a​n​n​i​s​k​i​r​c​he/  []
  4. Cf. Kosel­leck, Rein­hart (1996): Krie­ger­denk­mä­ler als Iden­ti­täts­stif­tun­gen der Über­le­ben­den. In: Odo Mar­quard und Karl­heinz Stier­le (Hg.): Iden­ti­tät. 2., unver­änd. Aufl. Mün­chen: Fink (Poe­tik und Her­me­neu­tik, 8), S. 255 – 276; p. 261f []
  5. Cf. Kosel­leck, Rein­hart (1994): Ein­lei­tung. In: Rein­hart Kosel­leck und Micha­el Jeis­mann (Hg.): Der poli­ti­sche Toten­kult. Krie­ger­denk­mä­ler in der Moder­ne. Mün­chen: Fink (Bild und Text), S. 9 – 20, here p. 20 []