Austere Histories in European Societies discusses how the current economic and political crisis in Europe affects not just our present but also our views and interpretations of the past. The contributions to the book examine a firmly defined problem: in which ways do crisis and decline in contemporary Europe trigger a selective forgetting and remodelling of the past? This problem is addressed through a set of questions, which the contributors to the collection address at various levels:
- How do present policies of austerity and the ensuing social exclusion of migrants and minorities influence the perceptions and interpretations of the place of minorities, migrants and colonized peoples in European history?
- How do new regimes of historiography and memory culture relate to emerging and established patterns of discrimination and social segmentation in today’s European societies?
In seeking to answer these questions, the book makes a strong contribution to a European-wide discussion on the backlash against multiculturalism, diversity, and immigration, and on changing interpretations of the imperial and colonial systems that have shaped Europe’s position in the world.
The point of departure for the collection is the recent turn of European societies toward more austere political regimes, entailing budget cuts, deregulation of labour markets, restrictions of welfare systems, securitization of borders, and new regimes of migration and citizenship. In the wake of such changes, new forms of social inclusion and exclusion appear that are justified through a reactivation of differences of race, class and gender. Against this backdrop, the book investigates contemporary understandings of history and cultural memory. Are we witnessing a turn toward austerity also in theories and practices of historiography, as well as in pedagogies of history? Can we speak of an austere historiography, an enforcement of conformity on Europe past and present?
The contributions to the book examine, in both national and comparative perspective, how this development entails a privileging of certain narratives of the European past, whereas other parts of the cultural heritage are being weeded out. Strong interests are apparently at work to purge the histories of specific European nations, but also those of Europe, the West, and globalization from cultural plurality. The authors also discuss how heroic and homogeneous stories about the past of nations, regions, institutions and religions are being retold, reinvented, and re-launched. The book thus explores to what extent history (including public debate on history and history education) is again becoming “nationalistic”, and to what extent Europe’s proclaimed “cosmopolitanism” is being narrowed down so as to simply celebrate the achievements of Europe and posit the West as a model of universality to be emulated by others.
Most chapters in the book focus on debates on history and colonial legacies in Britain, France, Netherlands, Denmark, Portugal, Sweden and Germany. They show how an increasing number of historians and intellectuals are again becoming blind to less gratifying parts of Europe’s history. While it is still too early to speak of a historical revisionism in the strict sense (for there are also strong counter-tendencies in parts of the academic community and postcolonial and migrant communities and organizations), the authors nonetheless argue that a transformation is under way, corresponding to a new politics of austerity that seems impatient with both democracy and the complexities of past. Among the sacrifices of this tendency are multiculturalism, postcolonial memories, and minority discourses of all kinds. What is lost is thus the very complexity and contradictoriness of Europe and the West. Especially, colonial and postcolonial memories are evicted from their recently claimed habitats in the European past, and again placed at the outskirts, far beyond the limit of the Western world. There is thus a strong correlation, which this collection aims to extract and analyze, between the ways in which migrant and migrant labourers are treated by present policies and the ways in which memories and experiences of migrants, minorities and colonized peoples are treated in historiography, historical pedagogy, and cultural heritage institutions.