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Landscapes of War, Trauma and Occupation: Painful Heritage and Memory


Prof. Rob van der Laarse (UvA) & Dr. Gilly Carr (Cambridge University)

Members of the research group

prof.dr. R. v.d. Laarse
External members:
Prof. Jan Kolen (Director of CLUE)
Dr. Gilly Carr (Cambridge University)
Dr. Britt Baillie (Cambridge University)
Prof. Marek E. Jasinski (Norwegian University of Science and Technology)
Prof. Claudia Theune (University of Vienna)
Dr. Caroline Sturdy Colls (Staffordshire University)
Dr. Nicholas Saunders (University of Bristol)
Dr. Koos Bosma (VU University)
Dr. Sharon MacDonald (University of Manchester)
Dr. John Scofield (University of York)

Description of the research programme of the research group

The project is financed by NWO and AHRC and seeks to gather and disseminate new international and at times controversial knowledge about how communities forget, remember and reuse landscapes of war, trauma and occupation in post-1989 Europe. In the context of the recent spatial, transnational, and material turn in the arts and humanities, we are aiming to cross disciplinary boundaries between different research communities (specifically in Britain and the Netherlands), academics and practitioners working in the field of heritage, memory studies, and museum studies, and boundaries between different European mnemonic communities. “Landscapes of war, trauma and occupation” will focus on professional as well as public debates about the long neglected issue in cultural studies of painful heritage and material culture. From the perspective of cultural dynamics we will specifically search for new ways to deal with questions of authenticity and identity as heritage. The key research questions can be summarized as follows:

  • With the continuation of perpetration of crimes such as ethnic cleansing, Holocaust denial and the associated increase of right-wing politics, what can archaeologists and heritage specialists do to increase awareness of neglected histories and sites of painful heritage?
  • With the increase in tourism and visitor numbers to sites of painful heritage, and given the potential public interest in currently neglected sites, how can we capitalize on their interest to uncover neglected, painful heritage and bring it centre stage?
  • With the expansion of European member states and its associated migration and immigrations, how can archaeology and heritage studies be used to unite old and new members of communities in uncovering and invigorating their shared painful heritage?

With the passing away of those who lived through occupation, trauma, terror and war, how can academics best act to record, preserve, digitize and pass on their memory to the next generation and for posterity, acknowledging that we are involved in a race against time?
Currently, the following international research groups have been identified as strategic partners:

  • Terrorscapes. Transnational memory of Totalitarian Memory and Genocide in Postwar Europe, funded by NWO and KNAW/NIAS and led by Professor Dr Rob van der Laarse (VU University/ University of Amsterdam) and Professor Dr Georgi Verbeeck (University of Leuven/ Maastricht University) and related to the NWO research line Dynamics of memory, which was initiated in 2009 by Van der Laarse and Professor Dr Frank van Vree (Dean Humanities, UA).
  • Re-presenting the Atlantikwall: collateral damage in Europe and its long-term impact (principal Investigator: University of Cambridge).
  • Painful Heritage: Cultural Landscapes of WWII in Norway financed by the Research Council of Norway since 2009 and led by Professor Dr Marek E. Jasinski (NTNU Trondheim).

Envisaged results

In the academic community there will be three outcomes: Two workshops (in 2012 and 2014, in Amsterdam and Cambridge), and a conference. Further, an edited publication that will set out the latest ideas by Europe’s top scholars on this theme, setting out and exploring the key research questions, recommendations and guidelines for those working within this field. We anticipate that this will become a widely-read core text, edited by the PI and CO-I (and/or other EC members) in the ‘Landscape and Heritage Studies’ of Amsterdam University Press. We also anticipate that the conferences will generate a larger European research group which will seek follow-up funding for fieldwork and future research, and apply for European funding. The outcomes of these workshops will be presented in a public conference in 2014 hosted by Memorial Center Westerbork and/or the Imperial War Museum in London, with support of Falstad (Norwegian Memorial and Human Rights Centre), the Huizinga Institute (Netherland’s research network for cultural history), and the universities and research institutes involved.

Work plan and time schedule

2012-2018, with possible extension.

Societal Relevance

The scientific study of this area – including the understudied thematic subfields that we present here – is not just an historical necessity, but Europe’s contested heritage inform contemporary (national) ideology and geopolitical strategies, the integration of old and new citizens, the exploitation or rejection of foreigners, social cohesion and the integration of diversity. For a successful and peaceful Europe to thrive in the future, it is essential that it comes to terms with its past—including its painful heritage. In short, what we propose for this project is a series of networking meetings, which aim to connect and integrate academic and practitioner discussions about Europe’s painful past as seen through the lens of the landscapes of war, occupation and trauma. We will also liaise with the media to report our findings to reach a broader public. Contact has already been established with Cambridge University’s Communications Office, which produces Cambridge Ideas (a series of online videos and podcasts made to highlight the research of Cambridge academics), and with the Dutch NTS-VPRO’s program Labyrint Radio and Television. Both vehicles will prove a valuable way to disseminate the results of the conferences