Book Review: Global Memoryscapes: Contesting Remembrance in a Transnational Age

Global Memoryscapes: Contesting Remembrance in a Transnational Age, Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2011
Edited by Kendall R. Phillips and G. Mitchell Reyes
Reviewed by Jason A. Edwards, Bridgewater State University 

Memory studies have become a vibrant interdisciplinary area of study over the past two decades.

Various books and articles become important accounts of individual memory practices and deepening theoretical understandings of memory. Global Memoryscapes can be added to this important list. In their outstanding introduction to this edited collection, Kendall Phillips and G.

Mitchell Reyes note that in an age of globalization the world experiences many more complex transnational cultural processes. Arjun Appadurai has remarked that these different processes have created a number of different landscapes. Appadurai adds the term “scape” to characterize the movement of people (ethnoscape), images (mediascape), capital (finanscape), technologies (technoscape), and ideologies (ideoscape). Phillips and Reyes note that memory practices are also undergoing complex transformations. They coin the term “global memoryscapes” to account for these various memory practices. They “imagine a complex landscape upon which memories and memory practices move, come into contact, are contested by, and contest other forms of remembrance” (15). Through eight different case studies, Phillips and Reyes put together a collection that is a survey of various global memoryscapes where memory practices and contests occur at local levels, but are influenced by greater global forces.

Chapter 1 examines Urvashi Batalia’s account of the journey of Bir Bahadur’s return to his village in Pakistan, a village he left because of the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, which also left tens of thousands of families displaced. Batalia discusses in riveting detail the fears, expectations, understandings, and general feelings that Bahadur comes to experience as he goes back to the village he called home as a child nearly forty years after he left was forced to leave.

Chapters 2-4 discuss a mixture of memory practices after the Cold War. In chapter 2, Ekaterina Haskins explores the cultural history of Russia’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

Haskins finds a contested history surrounding the Cathedral that serves as a site to meditate on the totalitarian history of Russia’s past, but also supplies a nostalgic longing for cultural certainty that was shattered with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Chapter 3 analyzes Serbia’s use of nostalgia to cope with the massive change occuring in the post-Soviet era. Specifically, Christina Lawrence examines the Youth Day parade, an event, that prior to the end of the Cold War, marked the birth of communism (as well as Josef Tito’s birthday) in Yugoslavia. In Serbia, modern celebrations of Youth Day act as a site to demonstrate the struggle that Serbia is facing as it attempts to shed its authoritarian past under Slobodan Milosevic, resuscitate a national culture in the present, and join the European Union in the future. Chapter 4 focuses on the Mayrau Mining Museum in the Czech Republic. Margaret Lindauer argues the museum is an excellent representation of a liminal space, which is place/space of transition. According to Lindauer, the Mayrau Mine marks a place where great wealth and energy was once extracted from the earth, a shattered facility that is no longer in business, and a museum that shows an interesting past, but affects hope for the future.

In chapter 5, Cynthia Cervantes writes about the Tule Lake internment camp, meant for Japanese-American ‘troublemakers’ during World War II. Cervantes provides clear details as to the importance of Tule Lake during the internment of Issei and Nisei during the war, but demonstrates the struggles survivors have had in erecting a larger monument to the plight of this community. In the next chapter, Katherine Mack analyzes South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission as it relates to how Winnie Mandela attempts to portray herself, and how others remember her during the apartheid and post-apartheid eras. Mack provides a fascinating account of how Mandela went from being considered the “Mother of the Nation” to becoming somewhat of a pariah within South African politics. There is a continued struggle over how Winnie Mandela should be portrayed in remembering apartheid and the current political environment of South Africa.

Chapter 7 examines Chile’s struggles with the memory of dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Kristin Sorensen observes various media practices which, on the one hand, omit and even celebrate Pinochet’s reign as the oppressive dictator of Chile, while also accounting for, particularly after Pinochet’s death, a perceived freedom to be more critical of the former dictator, even reviling him as a public figure. Finally, Zeynep Turan’s essay focuses on the role specific cultural artifacts have for refugees of the 1915 Armenian genocide and the Greek-Turkish population exchange in 1923. Through a variety of interviews, Turan finds cultural objects hold specific cultural memories and practices for each set of populations, but the Armenians he interviewed tended to be more active in their remembrance, while Greeks were passive. The study of objects, Turan argues, provides an important window into the ways different groups remember their past and how those objects can be acts of cultural survival for peoples who have experienced historical injustice.

Readers of Global Memoryscapes will profit from an excellent group of diverse and wellwritten essays exploring assorted memory practices and contests from across the globe. The only weakness of the book, and it is really not a weakness per se, is that each of the case studies focuses on a specific memory practice of a particular group or country, but a discussion of the larger forces that may have been impacted those memory practices is not readily present. For example, in Haskins’s essay on the contested history of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior there is not a lengthy discussion of the collapse of the Soviet Union and its potential impact on Russian memory practices. The focus is, rightfully so, on the actual contestations of history over the Cathedral. This lack of context is something missing from many of the chapters, but is understandable considering the focus should be on the rhetorical components of these various memory practices, rather than an extensive discussion of contextual background for each chapter.

Aside from this “weakness” Phillips and Reyes should be congratulated for putting together such an excellent collection of essays. They have provided a new area of research for memory studies; more case studies focusing on “global memoryscapes” are necessary as we continue to be impacted by the forces of globalization.

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