The Politics of National Identity
Edited by John R. Gillis
Memory is as central to modern politics as politics is central to modern memory. We are so accustomed to living in a forest of monuments, to having the past represented to us through museums, historic sites, and public sculpture, that we easily lose sight of the recent origins and diverse meanings of these uniquely modern phenomena. In this volume, leading historians, anthropologists, and ethnographers explore the relationship between collective memory and national identity in diverse cultures throughout history. Placing commemorations in their historical settings, the contributors disclose the contested nature of these monuments by showing how groups and individuals struggle to shape the past to their own ends.
The volume is introduced by John Gillis's broad overview of the development of public memory in relation to the history of the nation-state. Other contributions address the usefulness of identity as a cross-cultural concept (Richard Handler), the connection between identity, heritage, and history (David Lowenthal), national memory in early modern England (David Cressy), commemoration in Cleveland (John Bodnar), the museum and the politics of social control in modern Iraq (Eric Davis), invented tradition and collective memory in Israel (Yael Zerubavel), black emancipation and the civil war monument (Kirk Savage), memory and naming in the Great War (Thomas Laqueur), American commemoration of World War I (Kurt Piehler), art, commerce, and the production of memory in France after World War I (Daniel Sherman), historic preservation in twentieth-century Germany (Rudy Koshar), the struggle over French identity in the early twentieth century (Herman Lebovics), and the commemoration of concentration camps in the new Germany (Claudia Koonz).
John R. Gillis is Professor of History at Rutgers University. His most recent book is A World of Their Own Making: Myth, Ritual, and the Quest for Family Values.