Memory is made of names and places

For years, I have been wondering why so few people work on intellectual networks around 1800 like I do. And then I started noticing the shivering. Those intellectuals around 1800, German idealism and romanticism – the roots of evil. Some about them is known, and some is known enough to know you’d rather not know more about it. Very few people go back to the sources, go to the archive to find out more. The older professors working on the field with whom I talked about it answered to me: It is so much easier for you to work on that, because you are not German.

The contrast between the memory work on early 19th on the one hand and 20th century on the other hand is striking. The WW1 events are now present at all media level possible. From EU-funded research projects like the WW1 Encyclopedia or CENDARI to TV reports, it is as good as impossible not to learn more about WW1. The way the new media make it possible for novel research results to be more directly communicated to a wider public has its part in it, too.

The initiative of a group of students and PhD candidates to “live tweet” under @9Nov38 about the events of November 1938, accompanied by a blog, is a good example of that. Their success was quick and overwhelming. The traditional media took over. They gave interviews. Some of the things they said during the interviews were not formulated (or not rendered) the way they had hoped. It bothers them – now. But in five to ten years, this experience will have a completely different dimension. What ever their career paths will be, this moment of exceptional outreach will remain in their minds. And it should remain in ours.

So while it is acceptable that some things remain blurry in interviews, there is one thing for which it is not acceptable. You can’t publish papers quoting the wrong people. Getting the names wrong, getting the places wrong is contributing to erase their memory and their digital identity. And that is the beginning of the end.


Anne Baillot

I studied German Studies and Philosophy in Paris where I got my PhD in 2002. I then moved to Berlin, where I have been living & doing research ever since. My areas of specialty include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history. I am currently working at the Centre Marc Bloch in Berlin as an expert in digital technologies for the humanities.

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