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Dr Silke Arnold-de Simine

MA (Karlsruhe), Dr Phil (Mannheim)

Reader in Memory, Media and Cultural Studies

I am co-director of the Birkbeck Interdisciplinary Research in Media and Culture (BIRMAC), on the advisory board for the Memory Studies Association (MSA) and a steering committee member of the Centre for the Study of Cultural Memory (CCM) where we are currently planning the Memories of the Future 2.0 conference (March 2019).

My teaching and research is concerned with dissonant and challenging heritage: the collective processes and practices of remembering and commemorating painful pasts, their media representations and their ethical, political, psychological and aesthetic implications. My focus is on how personal, social and cultural memory relate to each other in affective and experiential encounters with the past, most importantly but not exclusively in the context of museums, memorials and heritage sites that favour immersive strategies and aim to evoke empathy in visitors. In my case studies, I interrogate the role of different media and art forms in this process. They are chosen with the aim of identifying transnational tendencies in remembrance cultures as well as culturally diverse responses.

Contact details

    Department of Film, Media and Cultural Studies
    Birkbeck, University of London
    43 Gordon Square
    London WC1H 0PD

Research update

    Challenging Histories – Painful Pasts: Memory and Mourning in Museums and Heritage Sites

    How do we deal with violence, loss and death on a collective scale as a society? In the aftermath of painful histories and ongoing legacies of dictatorships, genocides, warfare, forced migrations and (environmental) destruction, it falls to memory museums to facilitate public and communal encounters in which visitors from a wide range of backgrounds can be confronted with these events and their fallouts. In predominantly secular societies there are only very few cultural institutions that provide the public with liminal and yet safe spaces where these emotionally and ethically fraud encounters can be played out. Museums generate rituals, iconographies and social practices of mourning in which audiences can come face to face with contested memories of violence, guilt, loss and death. Some of these museums do not only enable cathartic release, but provide their visitors with the opportunity to work towards emotional resilience and ethical restitution.

    In this context I interrogate preconceived assumptions about the relationship between affect/emotion/cognition and experience/empathy: just because we have ‘felt’ and experienced something, does it mean we are any closer to understanding it? Key questions are the role of interactive media forms (from the oral to the performative and digital) in this process, how memory practices and performances are negotiated among groups of stakeholders, and how supposedly very different modes of relating to the past (trauma/nostalgia) complement and inform each other in unexpected ways as audiences engage with historical interpretations. One of my case studies is a comparative and transnational analysis of commemorative projects around the First World War Centenary.

Recent publications:

    • Co-edited book (with Joanne Leal), Picturing the Family. Media, Narrative, Memory. London: Bloomsbury 2018

    Whether pasted into an album, framed or shared on social media, the family photograph simultaneously offers a private and public insight into the identity and past of its subject. Long considered a model for understanding individual identity, the idea of the family has increasingly formed the basis for exploring collective pasts and cultural memory. Picturing the Family investigates how visual representations of the family reveal both personal and shared histories, evaluating the testimonial and social value of photography and film.

    Combining academic and creative, practice-based approaches, this collection of essays introduces a dialogue between scholars and artists working at the intersection between family, memory and visual media. Many of the authors are both researchers and practitioners, whose chapters engage with their own work and that of others, informed by critical frameworks. From the act of revisiting old, personal photographs to the sale of family albums through internet auction, the twelve chapters each present a different collection of photographs or artwork as case studies for understanding how these visual representations of the family perform memory and identity. Building on extensive research into family photographs and memory, the book considers the implications of new cultural forms for how the family is perceived and how we relate to the past. While focusing on the forms of visual representation, above all photographs, the authors also reflect on the contextualization and 'remediation' of photography in albums, films, museums and online.

    • co-authored with Tea-Sindbaek, ‘Between Transnationalism and Localization: The Pan-European TV Miniseries 14 - Diaries of the Great War’, Image & Narrative, 18:1 (2017): 63-79.

About Silke Arnold-de Simine