WHAT IS THE WORKING GROUP Witnessing ?
When people have encounters with complicated pasts, for instance when visiting a Holocaust museum, they “bring to such sites mental images from books, education, movies, television, personal memories, and fantasies” (Tyndall, 2004: 114).
How do we engage with the past on a personal and collective level? What exists and lives between a place of suffering and time? How can we embrace historical moments through cultural representations, memorials and commemoration? Is it possible to provoke historical empathy while witnessing a place of suffering? Which influence do national political narratives have when visitors encounter local sites of memory? What is the main purpose of “memory tourism” (or remembrance tourism) to Auschwitz, Dachau, Srebrenica? Why do we choose to become witnesses to pain, and why does witnessing matter?
All of the above are questions that our research group “Witnessing” tries to elaborate. Our main aim is to analyze how people react to artifacts, representations, memorials, and commemorations of the difficult past. We are committed to understand the complex phenomenon of witnessing and to explore different modes of witnessing, including its active potentials while also examining ethical challenges and limitations. With that in mind, we are especially interested in engaging with complicated and entangled pasts of Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas, but welcome researchers outside these geographical areas. This is an interdisciplinary research group and we would like to encourage scholars coming from a variety of disciplines, such as communication and performance studies, history, literature and film studies, pedagogy, political science, psychology, sociology, and the visual arts.
Members of the Working Group “Witnessing” meet quarterly. We aspire to collaborate on different projects and publications.