cover image of Genealogies of Memory 2023: Pandemics, famines and industrial disasters of the 20th and 21st centuries project

    Genealogies of Memory 2023

    Pandemics, famines and industrial disasters of the 20th and 21st centuries

    The conference will take place in Warsaw on 22-24 November 2023 in a hybrid format with possible online participation. 

    How individuals cope with the memory of traumatic large-scale events (such as wars, famines, pandemics, natural or industrial disasters) is of great interest to social sciences such as psychology, psychotraumatology or sociology. Since the Great War and what was then described as ’shell shock’, i.e. an individual’s bodily response to trauma – better known today as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – the study of trauma has developed significantly. But how are the memory and reality of dramatic past events experienced and worked through at a collective level, including those that are direct consequences of armed conflicts or violent revolutions? 

    The repression, silencing and forgetting of unpredictable yet present threats was part of the phenomenon of tabooisation in pre-industrial societies, as the anthropologist Mary Douglas pointed out years ago. It is aimed at protecting communities and societies from excessive fear and chaos (disorder) resulting from the unpredictability of the world. In the 21st century, societies with highly specialised medical and technological knowledge ceded responsibility for managing the safety (and health) of the population to the state (biopolitics) in situations of large-scale disasters and pandemic phenomena – as we have seen in 2020 – and have repeatedly proved almost completely helpless at the level of social practice. 

    Yet epidemics and pandemics such as the medieval plague, eighteenth-century smallpox, twentieth-century polio, tuberculosis or AIDS are experiences embedded in the collective memory of many generations worldwide. Similarly, famines, whether caused by armed conflicts (as after the Great War), natural disasters or by oppressive state policy (e.g. Holodomor) – have been, at the level of everyday life, particular generational and collective experiences.

    Do protective (security) strategies generated by the experience or, on the contrary, the defence mechanisms created (such as denial, forgetting or tabooisation) also influence our contemporary memory of these events and historical phenomena? Might they also be the main explanation why in Central Europe – in contrast to Western Europe and North America – it is so difficult to find memorials to the victims of the Great Influenza pandemic or polio?   

    Why do the societies of most post-communist countries, which in the second half of the 20th century were an area of regular regional – though concealed in public discourse (censorship) – industrial catastrophes resulting in ecological degradation perceive today the problems of contemporary environmental threats and global warming in such an ambivalent way?  

    Why do many narratives concerning these past phenomena still divide European societies (an excellent example of which is the Chernobyl disaster, which in popular memory, if only due to film productions, is still identified with a massive biological calamity, while in expert discourses, years later, the threat was assessed as minimal)? 

    The aim of the conference – carried out as part of the 13th edition of the Genealogies of Memory project – will be an attempt at drawing attention to the discourses of memory and non-remembrance of large-scale natural and human induced disasters in 20th-century Europe. We want to bring to the fore the perspective of diverse social actors – both individual and collective, thus thematising the presence of such events in both individual (family), regional and collective memory, for which an important area of expression were changing public narratives (of both authoritarian and communist, as well as democratic governments of 20th-century Europe) as well as popular ones, present particularly in cultural texts (film, literature, etc.). We are also interested in reflecting on the presence of this issue in the contemporary public space – material and artistic (monuments, memorials, exhibitions, etc.) as well as discursive. 

    To what extent is/has been the memory of these population-threatening phenomena influenced by the political and social transformations of the 20th century in East-Central Europe? And how does this region differ from Western European countries? – this is also one of the important questions we will try to answer. 
    In the discussions, we would like to focus on four main areas of selected aspects of 20th-century natural and man-made disasters: 

    1.    Epidemics: Spanish flu in East-Central Europe and other inter-war and post-war epidemics of infectious diseases (polio, diphtheria, tuberculosis and other ‘social diseases’, AIDS) and contemporary discourses of memory and their visual and textual representations. 
    2.    Famines – crop failures – food rationing – memory/commemoration of victims and humanitarian aid, food distribution and class/social inequalities, nationalisms/imperialism – how does the memory of famines and food crises in East-Central and Western Europe function – in grassroots (private, family) and public memory. 
    3.    Human-induced industrial disasters – ecology – fear versus ideology of progress – modernity (industrialisation) – communist censorship vs. discourses of memory – industrial disasters in people’s democracies vs. practices of tabooing (and censorship); environmental activism in EastCentral Europe (especially in anti-communist opposition circles vs. contemporary memory and public discussions of environmental threats). 
    4.    Practices of constructing memory of man-made/natural disasters – changing memories, shifting agencies, human and non-human aspects of memory (as objects, industrial landscapes, etc.), 20th century memory patterns vs. the discourse of the Anthropocene, the discourse of the apocalypse and the future of memory. 
    However, we are also open to other approaches to the above-described issues, going beyond the framework outlined here. 
    The conference language is English. The organisers provide accommodation for the participants. There is no conference fee. 

    Organisational information

    The conference will take place in Warsaw on 22-24 Novemver 2023 in a hybrid format with possible online participation. 

    Call for Papers

    To apply please send the following documents to: 
    The new extended deadline is 16 June 2023:
      • Abstract (maximum 300 words)
      • Brief biographical note (up to 200 words)
      • Scan/photo of the signed Consent Clause 
    Applicants will be notified of the results by 30 June 2023. Written draft papers (2,000–2,500 words) should be submitted by 15 October 2023.
    Selected authors will be invited to submit their paper to an edited volume to be published with a leading academic publisher, most likely in the European Remembrance and Solidarity book series developed by ENRS and Routledge.

    Download and sign the Consent Clause


    Academic Council of the conference:

    Profile image of Dr Konrad Bielecki Profile image of Dr Konrad Bielecki

    Dr Konrad Bielecki

    Dr Konrad Bielecki is a historian, specializing in cultural history of science and visual culture. He graduated from the Jagiellonian University (2012) and received his PhD from The Tadeusz Manteuffel Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences (2022). Between 2014 and 2020, he was granted scholarships by National Science Center (ETIUDA 6), Fritz Thyssen Stiftung (Herzog-Ernst-Stipendien) and De Brzezie Lanckoronski Foundation, and completed an internship in Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, funded by Scholarship Foundation of the Republic of Austria. During his career Bielecki has gained vast experience in numerous educational and exhibition projects. In september 2022 he joined the ENRS Academic Section.

    Profile image of Dr Heidi Hein-Kircher Profile image of Dr Heidi Hein-Kircher

    Dr Heidi Hein-Kircher

    Dr Heidi Hein-Kircher has been Head of Departement Academic Forum at Herder-Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe – Member of the Leibniz-Association since 2009, but has already been on the research staff since 2003. She earned her M.A. and PhD from Heinrich Heine-University in Düsseldorf. As a scholar on Eastern European History, she focuses on memory studies particularly on political cults and myths and their role for national gropus, but also on urban and gender history, on historical security and minorities studies as well as on the emergence of modern values and norms in Eastern European societies. She is author and editor of several books, among others: Der Piłsudski-Kult und seine Bedeutung für den polnischen Staat 1926-1939 [The Piłsudski-Cult and Its Signifcance for the Polish State, 1926-1939] (Marburg: Herder-Institute, 2023]; Lembergs “polnischen Charakter” sichern. Kommunalpolitik in einer multiethnischen Stadt der Habsburgermonarchie 1861/62-1914 [Securitizing Lviv’s “Polish Charakter”. Local Government in a Multi-Ethnic City in the Habsburg Monarchy, 1861/62-1914] (Stuttgart: Steiner, 2020); “Making the Nation Mobile: Securitization as a Driving Force for Political Mobilization of National Movements”, in: Werner Distler and Heidi Hein-Kircher (eds.): Historicizing the Mobility/Security Nexus (New York and London: Routledge 2022), 99-119, editor with Magdlena Eriksroed-Burger and Julia Malitska) Consumption and Advertising in Eastern Europe and Russian in the Twenthieth Century (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2023).

    Profile image of Karolina Kruźlak Profile image of Karolina Kruźlak

    Karolina Kruźlak

    Karolina Kruźlak is a student at the College of Interdisciplinary Individual Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences of University of Warsaw. Her main faculties are history and sociology. Her field of interest concentrate on the theory and methodology of history, processes of creating memory but also history of the Central-East Europe.

    Profile image of Dr Ian Miller Profile image of Dr Ian Miller

    Dr Ian Miller

    Dr Ian Miller is Lecturer in Medical History at Ulster University. He is the author of six books on topics including force-feeding, the changing Irish diet and the surprisingly interesting history of the Victorian stomach. Ian has published on the history of trauma and the Irish Famine. He is Book Review Editor for Social History of Medicine. Ian is PI on the Epidemic Belfast Project which, so far, includes a 25 episode podcast on Belfast's medical history at Recently, in 2022, he will be Visiting Research Fellow at HEX (Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence in the History of Experiences), Tampere University.

    Profile image of Dr Martin Moore Profile image of Dr Martin Moore

    Dr Martin Moore

    Dr Martin Moore is a Lecturer in Medical History at the University of Exeter, working in the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health. His research interests relate to cultural histories of time and care in the British National Health Service, as well as histories of diabetes care, chronic disease, British medical professionalism, and computerisation of healthcare and welfare in the late twentieth century. He is currently working on a history of post-Second World War commuting practices, and he over-uses the Oxford comma.

    Profile image of Prof. Małgorzata Praczyk Profile image of Prof. Małgorzata Praczyk

    Prof. Małgorzata Praczyk

    Małgorzata Praczyk is a historian and associate professor at the Faculty of History of Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań (Poland), and a member of the Board of the European Society for Environmental History (as the Regional Representative for Poland). She is the author of the books Environmental Memory in Memoirs of Polish Settlers in the Face of Polish Post-war Border Shifting (published in Polish, 2018) and Reading Monuments. A Comparative Study of Monuments in Poznań and Strasbourg from the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Peter Lang: 2020). She is the author of numerous articles concerning environmental history, posthumanism, and memory studies issues. Her book Environmental Memory… was awarded the best 2018 Polish book in memory studies by the Memory Studies Association Poland and received the Adam Mickiewicz University Rector award for excellent scientific achievement.

    Profile image of Dr Marcin Stasiak Profile image of Dr Marcin Stasiak

    Dr Marcin Stasiak

    Assistant Professor at Institute of History of the Jagiellonian University where he earned a PhD in History. Marcin Stasiak's main interest lies in the social and anthropological history of Poland after 1945, in particular in the history of disability, social history of medicine and the application of the oral history method in the study of the past. His publications include Stadion na peryferiach (with Marta Kurkowska-Budzan, Universitas, Kraków, 2016); and Polio in Poland 1945-1989. A study in the history of disability (Universitas, Kraków, 2021) for which he received the Historical Award from Polityka weekly in the category of best research monographs.

    Profile image of Prof. Ewelina Szpak Profile image of Prof. Ewelina Szpak

    Prof. Ewelina Szpak

    Ewelina Szpak is a member of the ENRS Academic Section and Associate Professor at the Tadeusz Manteuffel Institute of History, Polish Academy of Sciences. She received her PhD degree from Jagiellonian University in Krakow in 2010. Since 2012 she was principal investigator and participant of several research grants on social history of communist Poland funded by the Polish National Science Centre. She is the author of four books on social and cultural history of postwar Poland including “A Man is Sick when He is in Pain”. A Socio-Cultural History of Health and Illness in the Polish Countryside after 1945 (Warsaw 2018) and currently is working on her new book on social history of malignant tumors in postwar Poland. Except social history of medicine her main fields of research are: social history of postwar (provincial) Poland, history of mentality, memory studies, environmental history and history of biopolitics.

    Profile image of Prof. Joanna Wawrzyniak Profile image of Prof. Joanna Wawrzyniak

    Prof. Joanna Wawrzyniak

    Prof. Joanna Wawrzyniak is an associate professor of sociology and the director of the Center for Research on Social Memory at the University of Warsaw. Her current projects relate to the memories of socialism, neoliberal transformation, and deindustrialization in Poland as well as to cultural heritage, decolonization, and memory processes in Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Caucasus and South Asia. Among her most recent publications are a co-edited volume Remembering the Neoliberal Turn: Economic Change and Collective Memory in Eastern Europe after 1989 (forthcoming with Routledge); Regions of Memory: Transnational Formations (Palgrave 2022); and a special issue of Memory Studies journal titled Mnemonic Wars: New Constellations (2022). She was a visiting scholar at the EUI (Florence), EHESS, Sorbonne and CNRS (Paris), Freiburg Institute of Advanced Studies, Imre Kertesz Kolleg (Jena), Herder Institute (Marburg), New School for Social Research (NYC), and most recently at the Newcastle University, Forman Christian College (Lahore), and ‘Educational and Cultural Bridges’ NGO (Yerevan).

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