Contemporary Memory Wars: Lessons for the United States from Eastern Europe

Speaker: Pawel Koscielny

What lessons can we learn from conflicts over monuments in post-communist Germany, Poland, Czechia, and Hungary?

Fights over Civil War monuments in the US have forced Americans to face and try to work through painful, controversial, and profoundly divisive aspects of their collective past. At the same time, history appears increasingly central to public life, with calls to make the nation great again from the Right and to institute a 'Green New Deal' from the Left. Young people may struggle to understand why past events, even as they recede further in time, have come to haunt the public spheres around them so intensely at this moment.

How did other societies work through collective traumas and violence? Which kinds of collective memory-politics have paradoxical effects, sewing further division and social conflict?

This talk illuminates these questions for American students by placing their society's current struggle with collective memory in context with experiences of memory wars in post-communist Germany, Poland, Czechia, and Hungary. Students will learn what these societies did with their own divisive monuments, the outcomes of those decisions, and the lessons they may hold for the US, as its struggle with memory unfolds.

About the Speaker

Pawel Koscielny is a PhD candidate in history at UC Berkeley. After migrating to Canada as a child from Poland,  he studied Central and Eastern European history for fourteen years. He is completing a dissertation about public history, memory politics, and the crisis of democratization in Central Europe after 1989. Prior to beginning the PhD, he interned in the Polish Institute for National Remembrance as an archivist of communist-era secret police files. 

Suggested Audiences

Age: 9th - 12th grade and community college

Preparation: Students should be pre-introduced to the broad outlines of the monument controversy in the US. They should also be aware of the existence of the Soviet bloc between the end of World War II and the fall of the USSR.

Courses: World History, US History, Global Studies, Art History, other history-social science courses

Virtual Visit: This talk is only available in a virtual format. The speaker will work with the teacher to determine how the teacher will help mediate discussion within the classroom.

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