Commemoration and Types or Patterns of Historical Meaning-Making (Narrating)

(This is a text from last year’s dis­cus­sion with Stéphane Lévesque and Gabriel Reich on nar­ra­tive pat­terns’ role in reflect­ing on mon­u­ment and memo­r­i­al pol­i­cy. I nev­er got round to fin­ish­ing ist. Sor­ry for the delay.)

In their texts and in the ear­li­er dis­cus­sion (first on Pub­lic His­to­ry Week­ly: Lévesque, Stéphane (2018): Remov­ing the Past?, then on Active His­to­ry CA: A new approach to debates over Mac­don­ald and oth­er mon­u­ments in Cana­da, Part 1 and Part 2), Lévesque sug­gest­ed a mod­el of dif­fer­ent lev­els of his­tor­i­cal com­pe­ten­cies fol­low­ing Jörn Rüsen’s typol­o­gy of nar­ra­tive patterns.

While I agree that there is a lot of plau­si­bil­i­ty in a sequen­tial devel­op­ment of these types of nar­rat­ing through­out (West­ern) his­to­ry, and that the genet­ic type is the most com­plex and advanced one, I don’t find much plau­si­bil­i­ty in the idea that in the devel­op­ment of stu­dent’ think­ing with­in their life­time, the tra­di­tion­al type should have any pri­or­i­ty to the oth­er ones. Instead, I think that stu­dents encounter full-fledged nar­ra­tives as well as sim­ple state­ments of all types simul­ta­ne­ous­ly from the begin­ning, and will acquire them along­side each oth­er — but only grad­u­al­ly learn to rec­og­nize them for what they are, grasp­ing their logic.

Con­sid­er the fol­low­ing graph:

© Andreas Kör­ber 2018

It is to visu­al­ize the idea that increas­ing recog­ni­tion of change in his­toric time (the x‑axis) first leads to the devel­op­ment of the tra­di­tion­al type (ask­ing for the ori­gin of the cur­rent­ly valid, in cloud 1), then the expe­ri­ence that what has orig­i­nat­ed can also per­ish again and there­fore ask­ing for ori­gins is not enough, lead to the devel­op­ment of the exem­plar­ic type, ask­ing for pat­terns and rules behind the change on the sur­face (cloud 2), and only mod­ern expe­ri­ence of increased/accelerated change then led to the devel­op­ment of the genet­ic type, ask­ing for the direction.

Each of these pat­terns leads to dif­fer­ent expec­ta­tions for the future. Ini­tial­ly (green per­spec­tive), the future may seem quite sim­i­lar from the present. What is per­ceived as hav­ing begun, stays valid. Only from the (lat­er) blue per­spec­tive, a pat­tern seems dis­cernible, lead­ing to the expec­ta­tions that the future will also yield sim­i­lar pat­terns of events as are detect­ed in the past. From the (still lat­er) orange per­spec­tive, an (addi­tion­al?) increase in their “mag­ni­ture” can be per­ceived and its con­tin­u­a­tion be expect­ed.
The graph also is to show that the rules and pat­terns as well as ideas of ori­gins have not been ren­dered obso­lete by each new type, but are super­im­posed or inte­grat­ed into it.

I use this graph in my lec­ture. I now have added the small arrows. They are to indi­cate the learn­ing-neces­si­ties of a per­son with­in a rel­a­tive­ly short time-span of life or even youth. While in pre-mod­ern times, they only encoun­tered the then-devel­oped pat­terns (if the mod­el is valid), in moder­ni­ty, they will have to use all pat­terns simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, in order not make sense differentially.

The idea of a homol­o­gy is prob­lem­at­ic in anoth­er way, also. It might sug­gest that peo­ple in antiq­ui­ty (or pre-mod­ern-times) were devel­oped rather like chil­dren or youths, not real­ly grown-ups. This idea is not new, but is very prob­lem­at­ic. As you might be aware of, Rudolf Stein­er, founder of anthro­pos­o­phy, sug­gest­ed that the “ancient” Greek had a men­tal age of about 7‑years-olds. And there was a very influ­en­tial Ger­man “didact” of his­to­ry in the 19th cen­tu­ry (Friedrich Kohlrausch), who com­bined a sim­i­lar idea of the homo­log­i­cal devel­op­ment in the way peo­ple con­ceived “god” with that of becom­ing of age. So only the mod­ern man was real­ly “grown up” (and is was the Ger­mans who did so — very nationalist).

Because of Rüsen’s idea of a “homol­o­gy” in the sequence of devel­op­ment of nar­rat­ing types between mankind (phy­lo­ge­n­e­sis) and indi­vid­u­als (onto­ge­n­e­sis), Bodo von Bor­ries (and I as assis­tant to him) did a large-scale research in the ear­ly 1990s, were we pre­sent­ed stu­dents with items of dif­fer­ent typo­log­i­cal log­ic to dilem­ma-sit­u­a­tions, like Rüsen him­self has used for qual­i­ta­tive research and for explain­ing the nar­ra­tive types. We did find a pre­dom­i­nance of agree­ment to “tra­di­tion­al” items with 6th-graders (abt. 11 yrs), but found no lin­ear devel­op­ment. In fact, 9th-graders seemed even to regress. All this is pub­lished in Ger­man only, I fear.

I would strong­ly sug­gest to dis­tin­guish between the his­tor­i­cal devel­op­ment and hier­ar­chy of these pat­terns on the one hand and pro­gres­sion in learn­ing on the oth­er hand, for which I sug­gest the third dimension.

As for Lévesque’s revised table of com­pe­ten­cies in a fur­ther com­ment in PHW and his eval­u­a­tion that Gabriel Reich is cor­rect in that the genet­ic type pro­vides no solu­tion to the ques­tion of whether to keep or get rid of mon­u­ments: Do these types real­ly lead to spe­cif­ic polit­i­cal posi­tions — espe­cial­ly if they are always com­bined? Or do they rather char­ac­ter­ize part of their under­ly­ing under­stand­ing? I think there are dif­fer­ent posi­tions and solu­tions pos­si­ble by each nar­ra­tive. The val­ue of the dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion of types of mean­ing mak­ing and nar­ra­tion is rather ana­lyt­i­cal than prescriptive.

And that is also the ped­a­gog­i­cal val­ue: I think these typolo­gies (your table and mine) can be used for clas­si­fy­ing and dis­cussing state­ments of peo­ple in the polit­i­cal debate. It will enhance stu­dents abil­i­ty to rec­og­nize the log­ics behind spe­cif­ic polit­i­cal stances. And it may well show that both sug­ges­tions of keep­ing and of get­ting rid of can be under­pinned by dif­fer­ent types of nar­ra­tive, but that would gen­er­ate maybe dif­fer­ent policies:

Take an exam­ple from Gabriel Reich’s patch, again: civ­il war mon­u­ments in Richmond.

One could argue for keep­ing the statutes on Mon­u­ment Avenue on grounds of pure­ly tra­di­tion­al think­ing: to mark the ori­gins of the spe­cif­ic state of things. This is both pos­si­ble in par­ti­san ways (only “our” heroes), but also in a more “inclu­sive” form, ask­ing for such mon­u­ment of both sides to be pre­sent­ed, to mark the ori­gin of the coun­tries “divi­sion”. Equal­ly in tra­di­tion­al mode (but with dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal back­ground), one might call for their removal. If you hold that the divi­sion they mark is no longer giv­en, they might be removed.

In exem­plar­ic mode (as I opined ear­li­er), one could speak out for the preser­va­tion of the mon­u­ments on the grounds that they exem­pli­fy a cer­tain time and cul­ture which we can still con­sid­er as “over­come”, but one can also argue for their removal because they rep­re­sent­ed out­dat­ed or polit­i­cal­ly non-sup­port­able rela­tions to the past, and that our time needs to find new ones, not “pro­gressed” ones, but such which reflect the “char­ac­ter­is­tics of our time”.

I do agree that to hold a specif­i­cal­ly genet­ic view makes it hard to envi­sion the whole ques­tion as one of keep­ing vs. remov­ing, — but it does­n’t exclude it to the full extent.

If peo­ple are think­ing pre­dom­i­nant­ly in genet­ic mode, expe­ri­enc­ing the coun­try to hav­ing over­come that divi­sion, they object to a tra­di­tion­al log­ic they per­ceived the mon­u­ments to have. In this case, it would be the ten­sion between one’s own genet­ic mode of think­ing and that per­ceived in the mon­u­ments, which would gen­er­ate a polit­i­cal position.

If the genet­ic per­spec­tive was upon how to improve com­mem­o­ra­tion, one might ask for mak­ing such com­mem­o­ra­tions “more inclu­sive”. This may have been behind erect­ing a mon­u­ment for Arthur Ashe among the con­fed­er­ate gen­er­als — not a very con­sis­tent move, though, giv­en that is mere­ly addi­tive­ly com­bines mon­u­ments. In fact, it cre­ates a “memo­r­i­al land­scape” of a rather com­plex nar­ra­tive struc­ture, part of which is tra­di­tion­al (“heroes”) and exem­plary (“each group”), but by doing so enforces a new kind of tra­di­tion­al­i­ty (keep­ing the racial groups apart, assign­ing each “their own” tra­di­tion to hold up). So the intend­ed “progress” by inclu­siv­i­ty (“An avenue for all peo­ple”) may in fact have cre­at­ed a mul­ti-tra­di­tion­al nar­ra­tive. 1

But there are oth­er pos­si­ble solu­tions sug­gest­ed by genet­ic think­ing.  The con­cept of past peo­ple being “chil­dren of their own time” is as genet­ic as it can get, refer­ring to a fun­da­men­tal change in time, so that morals and actions might be con­sid­ered incom­men­su­rable across times. This con­cept has been used for exon­er­at­ing past peo­ples views and actions. On this ground, one might call it “use­less”. But it isn’t. Genet­ic his­tor­i­cal think­ing entails both — to rec­og­nize the tem­po­ral change and moral and polit­i­cal con­texts for past actions dif­fer­ent from ours, AND to rec­og­nize that our own con­text is valid, too.

From this point of view, it may under­pin a present posi­tion trans­gress­ing the “keep/remove”-divide, name­ly to find ways of memo­ri­al­iz­ing civ­il war “heroes” (and/or “vil­lains” that is) that do NOT inad­ver­tent­ly invite for tra­di­tion­al or exem­plar­ic hero­ic read­ing, but specif­i­cal­ly marks the dis­tance of time.

It is imper­a­tive, this think­ing goes, to keep these memo­ri­als, but not as hero­ic marks to the past or as ambiva­lent mark­ers. One should not just remove them, for that would put into obliv­ion not only the past, but also the whole dis­cus­sion and reflec­tions, the uneasi­ness about its rep­re­sen­ta­tion which sparked the dis­cus­sion in the first place. Genet­ic think­ing would not be con­tent to just remove the hero­ism (espe­cial­ly that of the wrong, side) with the effect to have no mem­o­ry at all, but would call for a memo­ri­al­iza­tion which specif­i­cal­ly marks the change between that time and ours today.

Again, take a Ham­burg exam­ple. In an ear­li­er con­tri­bu­tion to this dis­cus­sion I already hint­ed to counter-memo­ri­al­i­sa­tion. One of the best exam­ples is here in Hamburg-Altona:

Mon­u­ment and Counter-Mon­u­ment next to at St. Johan­nis-Church in Ham­burg-Altona 2

Next to Altona’s St. Johan­nis Church, a mon­u­ment had been erect­ed in 1925 for the mem­bers of the 31st Infantry Reg­i­ment in WW1, com­mis­sioned by sur­vivors of that reg­i­ment. Each of the three sides of the col­umn-like mon­u­ment made of clink­er fea­tures an over­sized, half-naked fig­ure, rep­re­sent­ing a war­rior with some antique weapon.

The inscrip­tion below reads “To the fall­en for a grate­ful mem­o­ry, to the liv­ing for a reminder, to the com­ing gen­er­a­tions for emu­la­tion.” 3. Clear­ly a very tra­di­tion­al pro­to-nar­ra­tive, both extend­ing the own war­rior­ship of the sol­diers into antiq­ui­ty and call­ing for its emu­la­tion, lack­ing any tran­scen­dence. The for­mu­la was coined by August Böckh for Friedrich Wil­helm III of Prus­sia, and was used on mon­u­ments remem­ber­ing the “lib­er­a­tion wars” against Napoleon, but also lat­er on those for the “uni­fi­ca­tion wars” of 1870/71. After the loss­es of mil­lions in WW1, its usage — espe­cial­ly of the third ele­ment — is remark­able, albeit not all­to­geth­er uncom­mon 4.

In the mid-1990s, the church’s con­gre­ga­tion com­mis­sioned a counter-memo­r­i­al, cre­at­ed by Rain­er Tied­je, con­sist­ing of three acryl-glass-plates, each direct­ly con­fronting one of the war­riors, depict­ing “dark, ema­ci­at­ed, fear­ful crea­tures”, as the expla­na­tion on the page “” states (thus on, my trans­la­tion). It con­cludes “In the cen­ter the hero­ism and the exal­ta­tion, in front of it it the hor­ror of war. A suc­cess­ful mix­ture.” (my translation).

Gegen­denkmal zum 31er Kriegerdenkmal (aus: Gedenkstät­ten in Ham­burg. Weg­weis­er zu den Stät­ten der Erin­nerung an die Jahre 1933–1945.

To me, this coun­ter­memo­r­i­al is not just a (exem­plar­ic-mode) jux­ta­po­si­tion of (trad­tion­al-mode) hero­ism and hor­ror of war, but there is fun­da­men­tal­ly genet­ic part in it: the counter-memo­r­i­al does not mere­ly point to time­less hor­rors of the con­se­quences of war­fare, but leans on a visu­al vocab­u­lary estab­lished in Holo­caust memo­ri­als: The “suf­fer­ing men” who wrig­gles with pain (and fear) on eye-lev­el with the war­riors, look like “musel­men”, the com­plete­ly debil­i­tat­ed and immis­er­at­ed inmates of the Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camps. In its iconog­ra­phy, the counter-memo­r­i­al belongs to the gen­er­a­tion of mon­u­ments which coerce the view­er, the pub­lic to find and answer, not pro­vid­ing one them­selves, either in being abstract or — as here — by visu­al­iz­ing death and dis­ap­pear­ance in any but hero­ic form 5. It is this fea­ture, using a visu­al code depend­ing not only abstract­ly on hind­sight but on con­crete knowl­edge about what such hero­ism-pro­pa­gan­da did help to bring about, togeth­er with the effec­tive plac­ing which ren­ders impos­si­ble “com­mem­o­ra­tion cer­e­monies, at which the plaques are not noticed”, which indi­cate to a spe­cif­ic genet­ic think­ing below it, try­ing to trans­gress the think­ing of the time.

Anmerkun­gen / Ref­er­ences
  1. Cf. []
  2. Pho­to by 1970gemini in der Wikipedia auf Deutsch, CC BY-SA 3.0,[]
  3. See  []
  4. Cf. Kosel­leck, Rein­hart (1996): Kriegerdenkmäler als Iden­titätss­tiftun­gen der Über­leben­den. In: Odo Mar­quard und Karl­heinz Stier­le (Hg.): Iden­tität. 2., unveränd. Aufl. München: Fink (Poet­ik und Hermeneu­tik, 8), S. 255–276; p. 261f []
  5. Cf. Kosel­leck, Rein­hart (1994): Ein­leitung. In: Rein­hart Kosel­leck und Michael Jeis­mann (Hg.): Der poli­tis­che Totenkult. Kriegerdenkmäler in der Mod­erne. München: Fink (Bild und Text), S. 9–20, here p. 20 []

New Draft on Analysing Monuments with Students

Kör­ber, Andreas (2019): How to Read a Mon­u­ment as a Nar­ra­tive in Class – a Sug­ges­tion. [unfin­ished draft]. In His­torisch denken ler­nen [Blog des AB Geschichts­di­dak­tik; Uni­ver­sität Ham­burg], 8/27/2019. Avail­able online at

This is a new draft of a sug­ges­tion for analysing mon­u­ments with stu­dents. Please comment.
August 28th: I added some aspects (in the PDF in green).

2019_08_Körber How to Read a Mon­u­ment as Nar­ra­tive in Class_2-lit.pdf

Andreas Kör­ber (Ham­burg)
How to Read a Mon­u­ment as a Nar­ra­tive in Class – a Sug­ges­tion [unfin­ished draft]

The fol­low­ing sug­ges­tions for address­ing mon­u­ments in his­to­ry edu­ca­tion are based on a con­cep­tion of mon­u­ments as pro­to- or abbre­vi­ate nar­ra­tives 1 by a present actor about a cer­tain past and its rel­e­vance. Even though in many dis­cus­sions about the removal of mon­u­ments, peo­ple deplore the removal of their “past”, 2 what is at stake, is not the past itself, but a spe­cif­ic and often priv­i­leged com­mu­ni­ca­tion of a cer­tain inter­pre­ta­tion of some past con­text, per­son­age or event.
As such, they also address some­one (most­ly a spe­cif­ic group) – some­times explic­it­ly, some­times implic­it­ly only. These “addressees” need, how­ev­er, not be iden­ti­cal with those real­ly explor­ing the mon­u­ment. But these (the actu­al “audi­ence”) will also feel addressed, and since they might (will) be diverse, in quite dif­fer­ent ways. This com­mu­nica­tive shift is far from being an excep­tion – it might even be the rule in times of change and of increased diver­si­ty of our soci­eties. Con­sid­er, e.g., a mon­u­ment hail­ing some hero of an impe­r­i­al war address­ing its audi­ence with a ref­er­ence to “our empire” vis­it­ed by an immi­grant British cit­i­zen. This applies not only to mon­u­ments depict­ing a group’s (e.g. nation’s) “own pride and pain” but also to crit­i­cal memo­ri­als address­ing a group’s actions in the past which are con­sid­ered as prob­lem­at­ic (to say the least) in ret­ro­spect. Con­sid­er, e.g., Germany’s memo­ri­als at for­mer places of con­cen­tra­tion camps. In most cas­es, they are called “Gedenkstät­ten” – “sites of remem­brance”. As such, already, they (have to) express their nar­ra­tive log­ic in diverse from, giv­en that the soci­ety they address is not only soci­o­log­i­cal­ly and cul­tur­al­ly diverse but also with respect to the past they refer to. For sur­vivors and depen­dants (of both sur­vivors and fatal vic­tims), they are (main­ly) a place of com­mem­o­ra­tion their own loss and also vic­tim­hood. In many cas­es these places tell a sto­ry of “we have this place for remem­ber­ing what they (the Ger­mans) have done to us”. But even with­in this group, there are many who are and still con­sid­er them­selves Ger­mans. For them, the nar­ra­tive is quite dif­fer­ent. And of course there is a dif­fer­ence between mourn­ing a loss and remem­ber­ing a sur­vival or even own resis­tance. An inscrip­tion on the 1965 mon­u­ment at Neuengamme Con­cen­tra­tion Camp Memo­r­i­al in Ham­burg, e.g., read­ing “Euer Lei­den, Euer Kampf und Euer Tod sollen nicht vergebens sein” (“Your Suf­fer­ing, Your Fight and Your Death Shall Not be in Vain”) does promi­nent­ly address a group of pris­on­ers who active­ly resist­ed. But what is more, most of these places respec­tive­ly mon­u­ments there are also known as “Mah­n­male”, i.e. “mon­u­ment” in the lit­er­al sense of “admon­ish­ing” some­one. Who can or should be admon­ished there? Refer­ring to the Nazi Crimes, they can (and have to) do it in two dif­fer­ent ways: Towards sur­viv­ing vic­tims and their depen­dants they may be read as “Nev­er let that be done unto you again” – but address­ing the Ger­man soci­ety as such they refer to “Remem­ber” (pub­licly, that is) “what you have done” (both to “oth­ers” and to “some of your own”, that is) – “and make sure that this nev­er hap­pens again”. Ger­mans among the vic­tims of NS-crimes (Jew­ish Ger­mans, Com­mu­nists, Social Democ­rats Jehova’s Wit­ness­es, and many oth­ers), then, will specif­i­cal­ly have to select (not choose) how they are addressed.

Metaphor­i­cal­ly, mon­u­ments don’t cease to “speak” if address­ing a dif­fer­ent audi­ence from what was intend­ed or sup­posed. Since all per­cep­tion and analy­sis (“de-construction”1) of a nar­ra­tive also requires and implies re-con­struc­tive men­tal process­es, the result­ing nar­ra­tives in diverse pub­li­ca will dif­fer, par­tial­ly by becom­ing more com­plex. Con­sid­er the 1925 war mon­u­ment in front of Hamburg-Altona’s Johan­nis Church: It depicts three medieval war­riors with bare chest and lean­ing on a long sword.2 The inscrip­tion reads: “Den Gefal­l­enen zum dankbaren Gedächt­nis, den Leben­den zur Mah­nung, den kom­menden Geschlechtern zur Nacheifer­ung” (“to the fall­en in grate­ful mem­o­ry, to the liv­ing as a reminder, to the com­ing gen­er­a­tions for emu­la­tion”). Even though there sure­ly are some youths on the right-wing of the polit­i­cal spec­trum to whom this may appeal, both most of them will have to engage in twofold inter­pre­ta­tion: “Eth­nic” will have to dif­fer­en­ti­ate between their own posi­tion and per­spec­tive and that of the youth in the Weimar Repub­lic, in order to rec­og­nize the mes­sage and to make their own sense of it, Ger­mans with what is often termed as “migra­to­ry back­ground” will have even more aspects to combine.

All these con­sid­er­a­tions also hold true for the “speaker’s posi­tion” in a memo­r­i­al or monument’s nar­ra­tive: Let’s take the exam­ple of Ger­man Con­cen­tra­tion Camp memo­ri­als again: Who is it, admon­ish­ing the vic­tims not to be vic­tim­ized again, and (more promi­nent­ly) the Ger­mans not to become per­pe­tra­tors again? In fact, one can even detect anoth­er lay­er in such mon­u­ments. The fact that (belat­ed­ly enough) the Ger­man soci­ety today des­ig­nates and sup­ports these “Gedenkstät­ten” (or even hosts them insti­tu­tion­al­ly) can also be con­sid­ered a mes­sage to both the sur­vivors, their depen­dants and to the world at large: “See and that we address this past” – pos­si­bly also with a call for sup­port: “By wit­ness­ing this com­mit­ment of ours to remem­ber­ing this past – help us to resist and even fight ten­den­cies to aban­don it and to return to a socio-cen­tric way or com­mem­o­ra­tion” again. 3 But is it “the Ger­man Soci­ety” speak­ing here – or some spe­cif­ic group (e.g. the gov­ern­ment, a polit­i­cal fac­tion, …) speak­ing “for” the Ger­man peo­ple or in lieu of? Just like the tar­get­ed audi­ence of a mon­u­ment sel­dom­ly is just the one real­ly vis­it­ing it (and try­ing to make sense of it), the posi­tion of “author­ship” needs to be differentiated.
Giv­en all this, the con­ven­tion­al ques­tions of (1) who erect­ed a mon­u­ment (2) to (remem­ber­ing) whom, (3) for what pur­pose, (4) with whose mon­ey, and to what effect (e.g. of appraisal, cri­tique), are still nec­es­sary, but need to be complemented.
As a result, a monument’s “mes­sage” or “mean­ing” is nei­ther fixed nor arbi­trary, but rather a spec­trum of nar­ra­tive rela­tions between a range of perceived-“authors” or ”speak­ers” and a sim­i­lar range of tar­get­ed and fac­tu­al addressees.
Fur­ther­more, their inter­re­la­tion is of utmost inter­est and may strong­ly dif­fer: Does (and if so: in what way) the mon­u­ments mes­sage imply the author and the addressee(s) to belong to the same group? It it “intran­si­tive” in that it at least seem­ing­ly express­es the fact of “remem­ber­ing” (“We both know that we have knowl­edge about this past and we express that it is of impor­tance to us”), while in fact it serves either as a tran­si­tive reminder (“I know that you know, but you must not for­get”) or even as a first-time intro­duc­tion of the addressee into the sub­ject at hand (which will be the mode in most cas­es of vis­it­ing mon­u­ments with stu­dents). So where “remem­ber­ing” and even “com­mem­o­ra­tion” is sug­gest­ed and meant, “telling” is the fac­tu­al mode.
Fur­ther­more, com­mem­o­ra­tive modes are man­i­fold. Mon­u­ments can not only call for neu­tral “remem­ber­ing”, but also for rever­ing or con­demn­ing, for feel­ings (pride and pain) – and they can appeal for action, e.g. for fol­low­ing an exam­ple. In cul­tur­al­ly diverse soci­eties, the spe­cif­ic lin­guis­tic and artis­tic modes of express­ing may not be clear to all stu­dents, pos­si­bly lead­ing to mis­un­der­stand­ings, but pos­si­bly also to iden­ti­fy­ing alter­na­tive read­ings which are worth considering.

Anoth­er aspect is cru­cial: In (post-)modern, diverse and het­ero­ge­neous soci­eties (at least), it will not suf­fice that each indi­vid­ual is able to think about the past and its rep­re­sen­ta­tions in the pub­lic sphere, to con­sid­er the mes­sages and to relate to them indi­vid­u­al­ly. The com­mon task of orga­niz­ing a peace­ful and demo­c­ra­t­ic life togeth­er with­in soci­ety as well as in respect to for­eign rela­tions requires that the indi­vid­ual mem­bers of soci­ety do not only sport their own his­tor­i­cal con­scious­ness – pos­si­bly dif­fer­ent from that of their neigh­bours, they will have to be able to relate to these oth­er per­cep­tions, con­cep­tu­al­i­sa­tions, inter­pre­ta­tions and eval­u­a­tions of past and his­to­ry and to the appeals they hold for them. In plur­al soci­eties it is not enough to just know his­to­ry your­self and to be able to think his­tor­i­cal­ly – its is para­mount to have at least some insight into the his­tor­i­cal think­ing of oth­ers and to be able to com­mu­ni­cate about it. This also refers to mon­u­ments. What is need­ed is not only knowl­edge and insight about some pos­si­ble dif­fer­ent inter­pre­ta­tions (as e.g. exem­pli­fied by clas­si­cal or rep­re­sen­ta­tive ones tak­en from lit­er­a­ture), but also an insight into the actu­al (ongo­ing, pos­si­bly still unsure, blurred, unfin­ished) inter­pre­ta­tions of oth­ers in one’s one rel­e­vant con­texts. Learn­ing about his­to­ry in inclu­sive soci­eties, there­fore, be they diverse with regard to cul­tur­al, social or oth­er dif­fer­en­ti­a­tions, requires a dimen­sion of mutu­al­i­ty, of learn­ing not only about his­to­ry and the past, but also about the oth­er mem­bers of soci­ety and their rela­tions to it, the mean­ings it holds for them, their ques­tions, their hypothe­ses, etc. 4

On the back­drop of all these con­sid­er­a­tions, the fol­low­ing guide­line there­fore does not ven­ture to help stu­dents to per­ceive the “true” “mean­ing” of a mon­u­ment, but rather to fos­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tion about what is per­ceived as its “mes­sage” and mean­ing by pos­si­bly dif­fer­ent peo­ple. Some of these per­cep­tions will be affirmed by being shared among sev­er­al and pos­si­bly quite dif­fer­ent users, while oth­ers might be dif­fer­ent. This, how­ev­er, does not nec­es­sar­i­ly ren­der them wrong or non­sen­si­cal (which, they might be, how­ev­er). Com­par­ing dif­fer­ent answers might both sharp­en the individual’s per­cep­tion and broad­en it to per­ceive rel­e­vance and mean­ings of memo­ri­als to peo­ple with dif­fer­ent back­ground, inter­est, cul­ture, inter­est, and so on. These forms of rel­e­vance might (often will) dif­fer from that intend­ed by those who erect­ed the mon­u­ment. What does that mean? Is a mon­u­ment dys­func­tion­al if peo­ple feel addressed by it in a way dif­fer­ing from that orig­i­nal­ly intend­ed? Or does it keep rel­e­vance but change significance?
These ques­tions do not replace but com­ple­ment oth­er approach­es to analysing mon­u­ments. It might be sen­si­ble, though, to not apply them after more direct approach­es, but to use them as a start, result­ing in more spe­cif­ic (and pos­si­bly also more) of ques­tions to explore.
The ques­tions can be used in dif­fer­ent ways. It will be rather tedious to just answer them one by one – espe­cial­ly includ­ing all bul­let points. The lat­ter are rather meant as sug­ges­tions for for­mu­lat­ing an answer to the main ques­tions above them.
To work indi­vid­u­al­ly is pos­si­ble, but because of the con­cept explained above, it might be more fruit­ful to apply a “Think-Pair-Share” ‑sys­tem and first work inde­pen­dent­ly, then com­pare sug­ges­tions in small groups in a way which does not only look for com­mon solu­tions, but also explores and eval­u­ates dif­fer­ences, and then share both insights and remain­ing or new­ly arisen ques­tions with the whole group.

I. Respond to the ques­tions 1–6, using the bul­let points below as direc­tions and sug­ges­tions. Try e.g. to com­plete the giv­en sen­tences, but for­mu­late your own answer to the main ques­tions. If you are unsure or have addi­tion­al ideas, for­mu­late your ques­tions (instead)!
II. Com­pare your nots with your partner(s). Don’t stan­dard­ize them! Instead: For­mu­late (a) a new ver­sion of those aspects which were sim­i­lar and (b) on your dif­fer­ences! In what way did/do you dif­fer? Make a sug­ges­tion why that might be! Keep your orig­i­nal notes! They will be valu­able in fur­ther discussions!
III. Report on your find­ings from II to your class! Com­pare with insights and ques­tions of oth­er groups!


  1. Com­mu­nica­tive Explicitness:
    In how far does the mon­u­ment (seem to) …
    • … present or sug­gest a spe­cif­ic per­son or group in a speak­er posi­tion? (e.g. “We, <…> erect­ed this monument”?)
    • … address a spe­cif­ic person/group or sug­gests to be direct­ed towards a spe­cif­ic group? (“You, <…>…” / “to <…>”) 5
    • … address a third-par­ty as some kind of wit­ness as to the fact of remem­ber­ing? 6
    • … refer to some third par­ty as involved in the past which is nar­rat­ed? (e.g. “what they have done to us”)
  2. Nar­ra­tive Explicitness:
    In how far does the mon­u­ment (seem to) …
    • … pre­sup­pose that the recipient/addressee has suf­fi­cient knowl­edge about the con­text referred to?
    • … explic­it­ly con­struct a spe­cif­ic con­text (explic­it­ly tell a story),
    • … rely on a cer­tain amount of com­mon knowl­edge of speak­er and addressee? 7
    • …intro­duce actors, con­texts and events?
    • ?
  3. Transitive/Intransitive com­mu­ni­ca­tion:
    In how far does the mon­u­ment (seem to) …
    • … embrace the recipient/addressee as a mem­ber of the same group (“we”) as the (pur­port­ed) speaker?
    • … address the recipient/addressee as a mem­ber of a dif­fer­ent group (“you”) as the (pur­port­ed) speaker?
  4. . “Mono-” or “Het­erogloss” communication:
    In how far does the mon­u­ment (seem to) …
    • … embrace the recipient/addressee as undoubt­ed­ly hav­ing the same perspective/sharing the eval­u­a­tion (“monogloss”)? e.g. by being implic­it about it,
    • … address the recipient/addressee as not nec­es­sar­i­ly shar­ing the same per­spec­tive and eval­u­a­tion (“het­erogloss”)? e.g. by being explic­it in state­ment, eval­u­a­tion, etc.
  5. Com­mu­nica­tive Intent:
    What is the rela­tion of authors’/addressee(s)/third-party’s role in the (proto-)narrated sto­ry?, e.g.
    • Gener­ic
      1. “<…> want(s) <…> to <know/remember/acknowledge/accept/judge> as <…>”
    • Spe­cif­ic:
      • “’We’ <…> want ‘you’ <…> (and oth­ers) to know what ‘we’ <…> have achieved!” (as e.g. in “Stranger, tell the Spartans …”)
      • “’We’ <…>want ‘us’ <…> to not for­get what ‘we’ <…> have achieved!” (as e.g. in Mon­u­ments to Unification)
      • “’We’ <…> want ‘us’ <…> to not for­get what ‘we’ <…> have caused!” (as e.g. in Ger­man Con­cen­tra­tion Camp Memorials)
      • “’We’ <…> want ‘you’ <…> to know that ‘we’ <…> sub­mit our­selves to not forgetting/remembering!”
      • “’We’ <…> want ‘us’ <…> to not for­get what ‘they’ <…> have done to ‘us’ <…>!”
      • “’’We’ <…> want ‘you’ <…> to know that ‘we’ <…> acknowl­edge what ‘you’ <…> have done to ‘us’ <…>!”
    • In how far does one (or sev­er­al) of the fol­low­ing forms describe the com­mu­nica­tive inten­tion of the monument? 
      • to inform, e.g. if it intro­duces and details the past inci­dents, con­texts etc.;
      • to con­firm, e.g. if it almost tac­it­ly – with­out giv­ing details – refers to a past con­text which both author and addressee share knowl­edge about; intend­ing to secure acknowl­edge­ment of factuality;
      • to com­mem­o­rate, e.g. if it almost tac­it­ly – with­out giv­ing details – refers to a past con­text which both author and addressee share knowl­edge about, intend­ing to express a cer­tain evaluation;
      • to mourn, e.g. if it refers to a past con­text which both author and addressee share knowl­edge about, intend­ing to express a feel­ing of loss of someone/something valued);
      • to remind, e.g. if it refers to a past con­text which both author and addressee should share knowl­edge about, intend­ing to 
        • pre­vent forgetting;
        • secure a cer­tain eval­u­a­tion which is sup­posed to have been shared before?
        • appeal, e.g. if it asks (invites?/requests?/summons?) the recipient/addressee to feel/identify/act in a cer­tain way, e.g. by 
          • refer­ring to (a) person(s) as respon­si­ble for some­thing, admon­ish­ing the addressee to eval­u­ate this/these per­sons in a cer­tain way, but not to fol­low her/his exam­ple, either
          • hero­iz­ing: pre­sent­ing (a) person(s) as respon­si­ble for a spe­cial achieve­ment and there­fore to be revered;
          • giv­ing thanks: pre­sent­ing (a) person(s) as respon­si­ble for a spe­cial achieve­ment and express­ing gratitude;
          • con­demn­ing: pre­sent­ing (a) person(s) as respon­si­ble for a spe­cial achieve­ment and there­fore to be condemned;
          • to present exam­ples / role mod­els, e.g. if it by presents (a) person(s) as respon­si­ble for some­thing and address­es the recipient/addressee as pos­si­bly being in a sim­i­lar posi­tion and hav­ing sim­i­lar capac­i­ties, urg­ing her/him either 
            • to fol­low the exam­ple (e.g. of tak­ing action, of resisting);
            • to not fol­low the exam­ple (e.g. of going along …);
          • to express grat­i­tude, e.g. if it presents the addressee and/or his group as respon­si­ble for some­thing good, express­ing gratitude;
          • to accuse, e.g. if it presents the addressee and/or his group as respon­si­ble for some­thing bad, express­ing contempt;
    • oth­er (spec­i­fy) …
      • “Gemüt­szu­s­tand eines total besiegten Volkes”. Höcke-Rede im Wort­laut. Nach dem Tran­skript von Kon­stan­tin Nowot­ny (2017). In Der Tagesspiegel, 1/19/2017. Avail­able online at, checked on 3/14/2019.
      • Kör­ber, Andreas (2014): His­tor­i­cal Think­ing and His­tor­i­cal Com­pe­ten­cies as Didac­tic Core Con­cepts. In Helle Bjerg, Andreas Kör­ber, Clau­dia Lenz, Oliv­er von Wrochem (Eds.): Teach­ing his­tor­i­cal mem­o­ries in an inter­cul­tur­al per­spec­tive. Con­cepts and meth­ods : expe­ri­ences and results from the TeacMem project. 1st ed. Berlin: Metropol Ver­lag (Rei­he Neuengam­mer Kol­lo­qui­en, Bd. 4), pp. 69–96.
      • Kör­ber, Andreas (2015): His­tor­i­cal con­scious­ness, his­tor­i­cal com­pe­ten­cies – and beyond? Some con­cep­tu­al devel­op­ment with­in Ger­man his­to­ry didac­tics. Avail­able online at
      • Kör­ber, Andreas (2019; in print): Inklu­sive Geschicht­skul­tur — Bes­tim­mungs­fak­toren und Ansprüche. In Sebas­t­ian Barsch, Bet­ti­na Deg­n­er, Christoph Küh­berg­er, Mar­tin Lücke (Eds.): Hand­buch Diver­sität im Geschicht­sun­ter­richt. Zugänge ein­er inklu­siv­en Geschichts­di­dak­tik. Frank­furt am Main: Wochen­schau Ver­lag, pp. 250–258.
      • Kör­ber, Andreas (2019; unpubl.): Geschicht­sler­nen in der Migra­tions­ge­sellschaft. Sich in und durch Kon­tro­ver­sen zeitlich ori­en­tieren ler­nen. deut­lich über­ar­beit­eter Vor­trag; unpub­liziert. Geschicht­en in Bewe­gung“. Uni­ver­sität Pader­born. Pader­born, 6/14/2019.
      • Kör­ber, Andreas; Schreiber, Wal­traud; Schön­er, Alexan­der (Eds.) (2007): Kom­pe­ten­zen his­torischen Denkens. Ein Struk­tur­mod­ell als Beitrag zur Kom­pe­ten­zori­en­tierung in der Geschichts­di­dak­tik. Neuried: Ars Una Ver­lags-Gesellschaft (Kom­pe­ten­zen, 2).
      • Lévesque, Stéphane (2018): Remov­ing the “Past”. Debates Over Offi­cial Sites of Mem­o­ry. In Pub­lic His­to­ry Week­ly 2018 (29). DOI: 10.1515/phw-2018–12570.
      • Rüsen, Jörn; Fröh­lich, Klaus; Horstköt­ter, Hubert; Schmidt, Hans Gün­ther (1991): Unter­suchun­gen zum Geschichts­be­wußt­sein von Abi­turi­en­ten im Ruhrge­bi­et. Empirische Befunde ein­er quan­ti­ta­tiv­en Pilot­studie. In Bodo von Bor­ries (Ed.): Geschichts­be­wusst­sein empirisch. Pfaf­fen­weil­er: Cen­tau­rus (Geschichts­di­dak­tik : […], Stu­di­en, Mate­ri­alien, [N.F.], Bd. 7), pp. 221–344.
      • Zio­gas, Ioan­nis (2014): Sparse Spar­tan Verse. Fill­ing Gaps in the Ther­mopy­lae Epi­gram. In Ramus 43 (2), pp. 115–133. DOI: 10.1017/rmu.2014.10.
Anmerkun­gen / Ref­er­ences
  1. Cf. Rüsen et al. 1991, 230f. Cf. also my com­ment on Lévesque 2018, ibid. []
  2. Cf. Lévesque 2018.[]
  3. That this dan­ger is far from being hypo­thet­i­cal can be seen in the light of a speech by the right-wing (AFD)-politician Björn Höcke in Dres­den on 18 Jan­u­ary 2017, where he called for a “U‑turn” in Ger­man mem­o­ry cul­ture, giv­ing up the pol­i­tics of “Ver­gan­gen­heits­be­wäl­ti­gung”. In the same speech, he reproached to the Berlin Memo­r­i­al to the Mur­dered Jews of Europe (the “Holo­caust-Memo­r­i­al”) as a “mon­u­ment of shame”, which of course it is, but in a dif­fer­ent sense: What Höcke meant is a “shame­ful” mon­u­ment, but for the cur­rent Ger­man memo­r­i­al cul­ture he attacked, to address one’s own (in group’s) “crime and shame” is noth­ing shame­ful, but a neces­si­ty. Cf. the doc­u­men­ta­tion of the speech in “Gemüt­szu­s­tand eines total besiegten Volkes” 2017 (as of 28.8.2019). Any sense of pride, how­ev­er, based on the devel­op­ment of this “crit­i­cal” and even “neg­a­tive” mem­o­ry cul­ture would be at least prob­lem­at­ic – it would under­mine the mind-set. The ques­tion remains of how to address this as an achieve­ment with­out resort­ing to con­cepts of “pride”.[]
  4. Cf. on the con­cept of inclu­sive his­to­ry cul­ture: Kör­ber 2019; i. Dr.. Kör­ber 2019.[]
  5. As e.g. in a Ham­burg mon­u­ment com­mem­o­rat­ing the town’s dead of WW1: “Vierzig Tausend Söhne der Stadt ließen ihr Leben für Euch” (“Forty Thou­sand Sons of [our] Town Gave Their Lives for You”).[]
  6. As e.g. in the verse of Simonides of Ceos (556–468 BCE) on the Spar­tan defend­ers at the Ther­mopy­lae, which Herodotus (VII, 228) reports to have been erect­ed on the spot: “Oh stranger, tell the Lacedae­mo­ni­ans that we lie here, obe­di­ent to their words.” (transl. by Ioan­nis Zio­gas). The orig­i­nal did not sur­vive, but in 1955 a mod­ern plate was erect­ed bear­ing the Greek text again. For this and dif­fer­ent trans­la­tions of the inscrip­tion see the Eng­lish Wikipedia-arti­cle: (as of 27/8/2019). For a dis­cus­sion of the word­ing see Zio­gas 2014.[]
  7. A mon­u­ment in Oslo, on the premis­es of Åker­shus Slot, near the Nor­we­gian muse­um of resis­tance against Ger­man Occu­pa­tion in WW2 (the Muse­um), e.g. states „de kjem­pet de falt – de gav oss alt“ (lit­er­al­ly: „They fought, they fell – they gave us every­thing“), or rather: „they gave (sac­ri­ficed) every­thing for us.“ Even though the mon­u­ment depicts tools and devices which can be used in resis­tance oper­a­tions, the mon­u­ment clear­ly requires knowl­edge of the whole con­text of Nor­we­gian resis­tance. Kör­ber 2014, p. 87.[]

gerade erschienen: Körber, Andreas “De-Constructing Memory Culture.”

Kör­ber, Andreas “De-Con­struct­ing Mem­o­ry Cul­ture.” In: Bjerg, Helle; Kör­ber, Andreas; Lenz, Clau­dia; von Wrochem, Oliv­er (2014; Eds.): Teach­ing His­tor­i­cal Mem­o­ries in an Inter­cul­tur­al Per­spec­tive. Con­cepts and Meth­ods. Expe­ri­ences and Results from the TeacMem Project. Berlin: Metropol (Neuengam­mer Kol­lo­qui­en; 4); ISBN: 9783863311148, S. 145–150.

Ein Kri­te­rienkat­a­log zur Analyse von Aus­drucks­for­men his­torisch­er Erinnerungen.

Kör­ber, Andreas “De-Con­struct­ing Mem­o­ry Cul­ture.” In: Bjerg, Helle; Kör­ber, Andreas; Lenz, Clau­dia; von Wrochem, Oliv­er (2014; Eds.): Teach­ing His­tor­i­cal Mem­o­ries in an Inter­cul­tur­al Per­spec­tive. Con­cepts and Meth­ods. Expe­ri­ences and Results from the TeacMem Project. Berlin: Metropol (Neuengam­mer Kol­lo­qui­en; 4); ISBN: 9783863311148, S. 145–150.