Between Frozen and Melted Memories: World War II in 21st Century European Audio-Visual Culture
Research Project (HERA 2016-19)

The project is currently under development. Please contact the project leader for updated information.



Roswitha Skare, UiT Tromsø (project leader)

Holger Pötzsch, UiT Tromsø

Anna Saunders, Bangor University

Sabina Mihelj, Loughborough University

Mirosław Przylipiak, Uniwersytet Gdánski

Krzysztof Kornacki, Uniwersytet Gdánski

Maša Guštin, Uniwersytet Gdánski

Bjørn Sørenssen, NTNU

Eva Hohenberger, Ruhr-Universität Bochum

Project Summary:

Between Frozen and Melted Memories: World War II in 21st Century European Audio-Visual Culture

Almost every European, no matter what nationality or age, has certain received ideas about The Third Reich and WWII. History and remembering are booming; remediated images of the war circulate the globe and continue to define our understanding of the way the past relates to the present, 70 years after the end of WWII. With the generational gap widening between those with direct experiences pertaining to the war and those who only know it through technologically mediated representations, the question becomes salient as to how various forms and degrees of mediation impact upon processes of collective commemoration and memory politics.
After the end of the cold war, argues Müller, the focus of historical reflections has changed. “Frozen” memories have started to melt; “both personal and collective memories were liberated from constraints imposed by the need for state legitimation and friend-enemy thinking associated with the Cold War” (Müller 2002, 6).

We question this statement and explore the dynamics between frozen and melted memories in the light of European integration and new evolving borderlines. Why do certain narratives of WWII produce memory-making effects while others remain at the margins of dominant historical-political discourses and practices? How do these narratives circulate across Europe, and what roles do new technologies of dissemination play?

Theoretical and Methodological Background

The relationship between reality and its representation, between mediated history and historiography has been discussed widely (Rosenstone 2001; Bösch 2007, Burgoyne 2008, Erll 2010). According to Erll not every cultural expression about a historical event becomes a memory-making work with impact on collective identity formation and politics. For this to happen the historical meaning potentials laid down in the respective texts will have to be activated in various contexts of reception. To describe this contextual level and its modus of operation Erll coins the term pluri-medial constellations (2010, 395).
Studies regarding mediated memories pertaining to specific events in WWII often limit themselves to the description of textually generated meaning potentials and disregard questions of how these potentials are received, negotiated, actualized, or challenged and subverted. Acknowledging the significant and valuable advances made in these studies, the present project aims at highlighting and systematizing the pluri-medial constellations through which the meaning potentials of films, television series, and computer games about specific incidents of WWII are activated. Cases will be investigated at a national and transnational (European) level and particular emphasis will be placed on new technologies of dissemination.

In particular we will address second and third generational memory that increasingly becomes reliant upon mediated representations rather than first-hand witness accounts, or what Assmann called “communicative memory” (1997). This trend increasingly transforms memories into so-called post-memories (Hirsch 2012), often conveyed across various media formats and platforms and usually implicitly or explicitly related to hegemonic narratives of suffering defining discourses of the past as a whole. The use of the Holocaust in different representational codes (Rothberg 2009) will, as such, be of equal significance to the present inquiry, as are questions of adaptation (Raw&Tutan 2013; Bruhn et al. 2013), remediation (Bolter&Grusin 1999), transmediality (Jenkins 2006), strategies of authentication (Enli 2015; Pötzsch 2012a&b), media events (Couldry er al. 2010; Mihelj 2008), and the concept of trauma cinema (Walker 2005).

Research Questions and Objectives

The topic WWII in 21st century films (both documentary and fictional), TV-series, network media, and computer games with special focus on third generation production and reception will be investigated through case studies of specific incidents in European comparative perspectives. We take into account that narratives about WWII are an important segment in film and television cultures across Europe and that they play a fundamental role in the shaping and negotiation of public perceptions of the past. Did the end of the cold war lead to a restructuring of screen memories of WWII? Do legacies of divided memories still persist or are they reactivated in connection to rekindled European divisions? What role do new media technologies play in the circulation of WWII narratives across Europe? What are the potential impacts of these processes on European identity and memory politics? What are the old and new blind spots, and the dynamics inherent in processes of technologically mediated remembering and forgetting?

We are especially interested in narratives about specific events of WWII that are getting new life in remakes, sometimes justified by the availability of earlier restricted archival material, but most often as new adaptations and remediations using new technology and establishing cross- and transmedial environments including web pages, social media, and an ensemble of telecasting. The use of digital effects (Ebbrecht 2007, 230), but also the breaking of supposed taboos (Bösch 2007, 27) raise the event character of productions that are increasingly transnational in production and reception. By turning premieres into “exceptional moments” (Cooke 2013, 541) the producers aim to reach new national and international audiences.

Using a combination of close textual analysis with qualitative and quantitative audience research as well as historical-political contextualization and critical studies of dissemination technologies, the present project will respond to the following questions: What are the strategies involved in these processes? How do specific intra- and inter-medial features and devices (Erll 2008) invite claims for authenticity and how do active audiences in a pluri-medial context of reception, subsequently, negotiate these claims? Do third generation producers use alternative strategies to problematize the havoc trauma wreaks on history and memory, or is the transparent Hollywood style and its immediacy (Bolter&Grusin 1999, 150) the dominant one also in European productions? How is the complexity of memories between heroic resistance and civil society’s complicity in the crimes of the past mediated? What is the relationship between mimesis and Bilderverbot in different media, and in different countries? What influence had television series like Holocaust (1978), and documentaries like Shoa (1985) in East and West? How are medial frames for historical forms of identity construction at an individual and collective level established, maintained, and challenged? What are the impacts on the relationship between European national and regional identities?

Many transmedial remakes address third generation viewers especially. The question, however, remains as to whether young people engage in this kind of activity or whether they rather receive their knowledge about historical events from different sources. The present project will describe and systematize the functions of transmedial platforms in memory politics and investigate how various generations of spectators engage with the conveyed narratives. Do new technologies open up for new forms of remembering, and to what degree is the relationship between memory processes and disremembering (Walker 2005, 19) problematized?

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