Workshop III: Russian History and the Culture of Remembrance

The politics of history and the culture of remembrance confront each other in their mutual interest in the search for a usable past. For present-day Russia in particular, the complex relationship between the past and its representation is invested with a high degree of urgency and importance. The collapse of the Soviet Union not only terminated an era of dictatorship, but also opened up a whole new perspective on history. Instead of a more or less homogeneous, state-imposed version of the national past, we now witness a proliferation of competing historical narratives that articulate the concerns and preoccupations of various groups of people.


In this process, discourses on three levels interact. In academic history, scholars are concerned with reconstructing and interpreting the past. In personal memories, people are trying to make sense of and find purpose in a living past. In public remembrance, society seeks moral guidance and self-affirmation through the collective commemoration of past events. Now, with the disintegration of the Soviet historical canon, Russia is going through a confusing, and at the same time, creative process of reinventing its past and redefining its historical identity. In the early 1990s, this process took place in an atmosphere of almost complete freedom and openness; under Vladimir Putin, however, the state has sought to restore its control over the representation and perception of the past. It is this growing tension between official and unofficial history that makes Russia’s culture of remembrance rife with conflict and controversy.

The subject of this workshop involves many problems that appeal to historians and other scholars working on contemporary Russia, such as the clash between conflicting versions of the past, the contrast between public representations and private experiences of the past, or the phenomenon of historical amnesia. Thus, the workshop addresses (a) the various ways in which modern Russia imagines its historical past, (b) what functions and purposes this serves in light of the present, and (c) what motives and causes can explain the dynamics of this process. Anyone working in the field of Russian memory studies is welcome to apply for this workshop.


The aim of the workshop is to explore the recent changes in perspectives on Russia’s national history and the Russian search for a usable past in the current situation of transition. A distinction is made between three levels of historical perception in academic histories, personal memories, and public remembrances. Their perceived historical pasts can be expressed in diverse forms, such as narrative, visual, musical, monumental, or ritual representations of history. Within this field of discursive exchanges, official and unofficial versions of history are contested. Through a multidisciplinary analysis of these imagined histories, the studies of Russian history, literature, arts, and society will be combined in a joint effort to establish how and why the Russian past is used in the present.


Scholars are invited to present papers on any case study that will fit within the general theme of Russian memory studies. Possible topics include:

  • Practices of Russia’s culture of remembrance.
  • Celebrations, commemorations, and other activities of historical remembrance.
  • The erection and/or pulling down of monuments and memorial places in Russia.
  • State interference with academic history and public history.
  • The growing interest in private histories and memories of ordinary people.
  • The perception of history in diaries, letters, and other ego documents.
  • The writing and rewriting of school books and popular information on history.
  • The imaging of history in films, on television, and in other mass media.

Keynote speaker

Prof. Frederick Corney (Department of History, The College of William and Mary, Williamsburg)

More Information

For more information on this workshop please contact Dr. Otto Boele, email

Last Modified: 17-04-2012