Add on European Culture

Organiser: Bo Strath (EUI), assisted by Dr. James Kaye and Mag. Heike Karge, in cooperation with Ludwig Boltzmann Institute, Vienna

The European University Institute team is the contractor investigating European cultures within the Framework of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for European History and Public Spheres coordinated at the Democracy Centre in Vienna. This Boltzmann Institute is currently involved in the investigation of pressing European topics relevant to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Through this work it will become possible to make the complex and multilayered development threads of Europe more understandable and better communicate these insights to an interested public in Europe and beyond. Within this framework the EUI team is responsible for the investigation of European culture which is understood to be diverse, not existent but perpetually emergent through social construction and confrontation in a process that aims at understanding and explanation.

Important dimensions of culture concern the ways in which images of pasts are presented and memories are constructed. The things which a society remembers, forgets or (in a Freudian sense) represses are important aspects of culture. To remember is to interpret experiences and develop horizons of expectation as Reinhart Koselleck has argued. From this perspective the EUI team investigates memory in an attempt to outline the contours of a diverse European culture linked between past and future, stamped by experience and present. This perspective of memory, one in which it is codetermined by the present, acknowledges relationships between generations and memory. Through unique experiences generations interpret the past anew.

To analyse attempts at formation of images of the past two turbulent moments of European history have been selected. The first occurs during the early 1960s: an era in which the Berlin Wall was constructed, the Cuban Missile Crisis took place, the UK was excluded from the EEC and Kennedy delivered his famed speech in Berlin. The second moment is located in the years around 1990 when the Soviet Union imploded, the Wall fell, new integration possibilities arose for the EC and the bipolar world dissolved. At this time the emergence of a short lived belief in the realisation of a Hegelian process of History became perceptible. Thus, there was significant motivation for the reconstruction of European memory narratives. These crisis epochs were roughly separated by a generation and motivated new interpretations of experiences and the past.

Important questions raised include: How were the Second World War and its causes presented in different parts of Europe during the early 1960s and the era around 1990? How were the early 1960s remembered around 1990? What was incorporated in future horizons of each of the epochs in terms of a European political order? In which senses can we identify European Memory Culture?

Through the confrontation with these questions, departing from concrete historical situations, the EUI team will develop general reflections on European culture as memory culture. Where is the unity in the diversity of this concept? How can pasts be confronted by cultures, communities and societies that were once bitterly opposed? What is common in the differences? Where might one sound for a European historic responsibility that not exclusive inner-European?