Memory and Oblivion - Medieval and Contemporary Concepts

Course Description: 

The contemporary world experiences an ever growing need for self-identification through history, a sentiment shared between people across time and space. The abundance of information about the past requires an awareness on issues such as criteria for collection, selection and preservation. This course will explore how memory can help us to understand past societies and how to deal with their heritage.

The themes of memory and oblivion are at the very core of historical knowledge. Furthermore, they are still a popular research trend. The course will analyze the most important contributions to this topic and reflect on their capacity to explore crucial elements of medieval and modern societies.

Regarding medieval authors and relics of material culture, the course will analyze how far concepts of memory and the problem of oblivion have to be taken into account for understanding and interpreting our sources. We will also have a look at the achievements by neuroscience and cognitive studies demonstrating the complex nature of remembering. We will examine the various forms of memory-work and cultural transmissions and the relevance of various antique, medieval and modern concepts of memory. We will examine textual, archaeological, visual and oral sources. The implications of memory/forgetting, place and identity creation, production and reproduction of collective/personal memory will be critically evaluated and re-contextualized within a larger cultural field.

 This course will:

  • Provide an introduction to the multiple notions, ethics, methods and consequences of memory work
  • Demonstrate the complexities of memory studies and relate them to a broader field, particularly cultural transmission and heritage
  • Cover a range of historical topics from the critical perspective of memory studies drawing on diverse case-studies
  • Encourage students to contribute to current research debates, and develop innovative evidence-based arguments

Foster students’ skills in presenting complex ideas and critical analysis during their seminars and their written contributions

Learning Outcomes: 


By the end of this course students should

  • Have a critical knowledge of the key issues and debates that define memory studies
  • Understand principal patterns of historical research and hermeneutic approaches to various kinds of source material
  • Develop familiarity with memory studies for future research or their professional career
  • Present cogent, evidence-based arguments in seminars and written contributions

10% Attendance.

20% class participation:
Students are requested to participate in group discussions as well as general discussions on the respective topic on the basis of the readings and their own background information. The discussions aim at exchanging ideas on a certain question or problem. The general discussion will try to collect, exchange and compare various results and opinions and try to get to some general conclusions. The discussions should enable the students to get a profound knowledge of the topic.

30% moderting sessions, presenting selected articles and thematic issues:
Students are requested to choose a session, in which they would like to moderate the discussion. This kind of moderation can contain an introductive element. The main element of the moderation is, however, to guide the class through the respective topic. The moderators are expected to lead the discussion or to moderate various forms of cooperation. These can contain group work or other interactive forms of cooperation and communication. The moderators should develop a plan with their goals in mind. The moderation should integrate the mandatory readings. It should inspire students to participate and to develop their own ideas.

40 % Final essay (3000 words):
The class paper should elaborate more in detail one of the topics discussed during the class. Additional aspects that have not been included in the class can be chosen as well. They just have to fit the general topic of the course. The paper should demonstrate the ability to work in a professional manner on a ´specific problem or question. It should demonstrate the ability to identify open questions and to elaborate them on the basis of the source material and the relevant literature. The paper should fulfill the usual requirements for a scholarly work in Cultural Heritage and Medieval Studies, with footnotes, bibliography and the respective quotation styles. The maximum number of words is 3000 with a font size of 12 points and 1 ½ spaced lines.