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Open access

Ambiguous Narratives of World War Technologies in Contemporary Military History Museums

Stephan Jaeger

Abstract

This article provides an analysis of how military history museums in Germany, Britain, Belgium, Poland, and the United States exhibit and contextualize weapon technologies that were developed in the two world wars. The article focuses on technologies (gas warfare, the atomic bomb, tanks, and the V2 long-range rocket) that are directly connected to military success and innovation but also relate to dehumanization and destruction. By employing the analytical concepts of experientiality and of antagonistic, cosmopolitan, and entangled memory, this article demonstrates how museums can create open or closed narratives, steer the visitor toward particular interpretations, enhance or deconstruct the authentic aura of technological artifacts, and stage the symbolic potential of technologies. In addition, it shows how museums can educate visitors and allow them to experience the ambiguities, controversies, and complexities of these technologies.

Free access

Introduction

Places of Progress? Technology Museums, Memory, and Education

Christian Kehrt and Daniel Brandau

“Revolutionary” technologies or large technological systems are often deemed controversial, risky, or ambivalent. Diverging interpretations clash when technological objects, such as rockets, airplanes, or nuclear reactors, are exhibited in museums or at heritage sites, with profound implications for underlying concepts of historical education. This special issue explores the argument that histories of technology have often upheld a traditional view of modern linear progress but became the focus of controversies when the social, political, and cultural conditions of perceiving and remembering these objects changed. At former “places of progress,” visitors and exhibition makers are confronted with the remains of the Industrial Revolution, colonialism, two World Wars, the Cold War, the Age of Coal, the Space Age, the Atomic Age and the Digital Age. Exhibitions and displays have been used to explain, teach, or make sense of the advents, successes, and failures of high-tech projects. Understanding technological artifacts and corresponding sites such as Chernobyl, Peenemünde, and Hiroshima as well as structures such as factories or bunkers as sites of memory (lieux de mémoire, a term coined by Pierre Nora) shifts our attention to processes of remembering modern technologies and the cases in which established narratives of progress have been supported or challenged. Questions about the ethics of technology use often seem to subvert stories of the “heroes of invention,” leaving visitors with the impression of technological ambivalence. Attempts to teach and learn about history and technology via objects and sites have been complicated, politicized, and contested.

Open access

Peenemünde Contested

Remembering Second World War Technologies in Rural East Germany from 1984 to 1992

Daniel Brandau

Abstract

Given Peenemünde's ambivalent military and technological history, from rocket development during the Nazi period to East German naval and air bases during the Cold War, its musealization was considered both a chance and challenge during the region's deindustrialization in the 1990s. Local residents’ support of veteran engineers promoting an apologetic view of Nazi rocketry was met with bewilderment. However, a space park project and anniversary event were spearheaded by government and industry representatives, turning a regional affair into an international controversy. The article analyzes the function of memory work and the remembrance of technological progress in rural northeastern Germany before and after German reunification. Based on archival sources and interviews with former officers and museum advocates, it traces the Peenemünde museum project through a history of ideological and biographical caesurae, enthusiasm, political promises, and socioeconomic despair.

Open access

Ruin of Empire

The Uganda Railway and Memory Work in Kenya

Norman Aselmeyer

Abstract

This article is concerned with the memory of the Uganda Railway in Kenya. Built during the heyday of British imperialism at the end of the nineteenth century, the colonial railway has been a highly contested infrastructure. Drawing on museum exhibitions, public speeches, and publications, the article argues that the main narrative of the railway line as a tool of oppression began to change when the railway infrastructure gradually deteriorated in the mid-twentieth century. I show how three distinct groups (white expatriates, Kenyan-Asians, and Kenya's political elite) were involved in creating a new public memory that popularized the Uganda Railway as a cornerstone of the postcolonial nation. Their uncoordinated but simultaneous efforts toward a new reading of the past all aimed, albeit for different reasons, at reimagining the nation. The article thus shows mechanisms of coming to terms with the colonial past in a postcolonial nation.

Open access

“Historical Falsification” as a Master Trope in the Official Discourse on History Education in Putin’s Russia

Julie Fedor

This article explores a key claim underpinning Russian official memory politics, namely, the notion that Russia’s past (and especially the role it played in the Second World War) is the object of a campaign of “historical falsification” aimed at, among other things, undermining Russian sovereignty, especially by distorting young people’s historical consciousness. Although “historical falsification” is an important keyword in the Kremlin’s discourse, it has received little scholarly attention. Via an analysis of official rhetoric and methodological literature aimed at history teachers, I investigate the ideological functions performed by the concept of “historical falsification.” I show how it serves to reinforce a conspiratorial vision of Russia as a nation under siege, while simultaneously justifying the drive toward greater state control over history education.

Free access

Introduction

Remembering the Second World War in Post-Soviet Educational Media

Barbara Christophe

Analyzing representations of the Second World War in Russian—and in one case, Lithuanian—educational media, the contributions to this special issue respond to three important anniversaries: the eightieth anniversary of the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in 2019, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Second World War victory in 2020, and the eightieth anniversary of the German invasion of the USSR in 2021. Moreover, they investigate the commemoration of historical events which clearly gained in significance after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was only in the mid-1990s that post-Soviet Russia first introduced annual parades on Victory Day, 9 May, which used to take place only every five years during Soviet times. And it was again the government of Boris Yeltsin that expanded the Russian mnemonic calendar and introduced the Day of Mourning on 22 June, the day Germany invaded the USSR in 1941. Finally, the articles in this special issue also intervene in a lively academic debate on the political and cultural significance of the single most important affair in post-Soviet memory cultures—a term used here explicitly in order to avoid invoking the idea of a culturally coherent social space, but rather to denote all the different forms and modes of recalling the past enacted by a broad range of different actors, at times openly competing with each other. In an attempt to carve out the specific shape of these interventions, I will begin with an outline of the main achievements and lines of argument in the impressive number of recent studies that have explored the dynamics of remembering the Second World War, usually referred to as the Great Patriotic War in post-Soviet Russia. I will then present an overview of the contributions to this volume.

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“Hitlermania”

Nazism and the Holocaust in Indian History Textbooks

Basabi Khan Banerjee and Georg Stöber

Abstract

Recent surveys and reports document a growing phenomenon of “Hitlermania” in some parts of India. This article investigates whether the way in which National Socialism is presented in school education has encouraged this development or, on the contrary, has discouraged a positive valuation of the Nazis, including their leader. It analyzes curricula and a sample of school history textbooks published by state and central education boards, which have been used in Indian schools over the last two decades, focusing on their treatment of National Socialism and the Holocaust. While the results can be partly attributed to government interference in the school history curricula and in textbook writing, there appear to have been other factors at play, such as the social environment.

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Representations of the Holocaust in Albanian Secondary School History Textbooks since the Educational Reform of 2004

Esilda Luku

Abstract

This article examines the extent to and the ways in which the Holocaust is presented in Albanian secondary school history textbooks. It offers a quantitative analysis of the space devoted to the Holocaust in proportion to the textbooks’ overall content and a qualitative content analysis based on the narrative patterns outlined in the UNESCO report The International Status of Education about the Holocaust: A Global Mapping of Textbooks and Curricula. It demonstrates that Albanian textbooks offer scant coverage of the Holocaust, but that some changes regarding the conceptualization, contextualization, and narrative of the Holocaust have been implemented since the curricular reform of 2004.

Free access

Introduction: World Knowledge and Non-European Space

Nineteenth Century Geography Textbooks and Children’s Books

Andreas Weiß

Free access

Introduction

Textbooks in Periods of Political Transition after the Second World War

Kira Mahamud Angulo and Anna Ascenzi