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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) and on the advisory board for the Memory Studies Association (MSA).

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

    • Book project: Holographic Afterlives: Virtual Environments, Immersive Experiences and Empathic Encounters in Museums and Heritage Sites (planned publication date 2020)

      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 museums and heritage sites 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.

      My project scrutinises the use of holographic simulations within museums and heritage sites as places where private and public practices of remembrance converge. Each of my main case studies is chosen to foreground and elucidate one particular aspect: 1) three-dimensional and immersive story-telling (Cromford Mills, Matlock, UK), 2) the use of augmented reality in the presentation of tangible and intangible heritage (Museum Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, New Zealand) and 3) the combination of interactive voice recognition technology with 3D simulations of Holocaust survivors to enable empathic encounters, piloted in the Illinois Holocaust Museum (Skokie, US), with a UK version currently in the making at the National Holocaust Centre and Museum (Newark, UK). The project seeks to understand for the first time the impact of interactive spatial imaging technologies on the ways audiences are encouraged to relate to difficult histories, violence and loss and asks how we envisage posthumous personhood and the passing on of memories across generations, cultures and communities. It sets out to demonstrate that the current (commercial, affective, imaginative) investment in holographic display is not just a transitory fad but the most recent incarnation of the much older human dream and potential nightmare of extending agency and personhood beyond death by experimenting with new forms of digital afterlives.

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