Memory Practices and Politics in Northern Ireland, 1960-2010
Having written widely on issues regarding historiography, my research in recent years has shifted to the broader field of cultural memory studies and what I’ve called the ‘dynamics of cultural remembrance’. My next project will extend these concerns to the practices and politics of memory in Northern Ireland 1960-2010. There has been a growing academic interest in remembrance in post-conflict Northern Ireland as a feature of reconciliation and transitional justice: how to remember the last forty years of conflict in a way that does justice to its victims without opening up new wounds? While it intersects with these discussions, my particular concern as a cultural analyst and historian is somewhat different: it is with the ways in which remembrance itself already played a role since the 1960s in fostering conflict, mobilizing violence, as well as in preparing peace by re-imagining the past. The annual commemoration of earlier conflicts (the Battle of the Boyne of 1690 for Protestants, the 1916 Rising for nationalists) often created flashpoints and occasions for violence; as time passed, moreover, the memorialization of recent atrocities was added to the mix. In the latter years of the conflict leading up to the peace agreement of 1998, finally, changing narratives about the common past were also gradually mobilized in new ways in an effort to bring the parties together (a new focus on shared experiences of World War One has been key; see Rigney 2007; Grayson 2010).
My project will analyze these cultural and political dynamics, building on several studies dealing with particular aspects of cultural remembrance in Northern Ireland (Switzer 2007; McBride 1997; Dawson 2007; Conway 2010) but also going beyond these studies by (1) providing a more thorough analysis of the interplay between various mnemonic practices (in the arts, commemorative rituals, legal procedures, visual displays, apologies) and the sequences in which these occur; (2) by taking into account how memory practices within each community mirrored and reacted to those of the other; (3) by examining the interplay between the remembrance of recent events and the mobilization of narratives regarding periods in the more distant past for the purpose of conflict and of reconciliation.
Rigney, A. 1990 / 2002. The Rhetoric of Historical Representation: Three Narratives of the French Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Rigney, A. 2001. Imperfect Histories: the Elusive Past and the Legacy of Romantic Historicism. Ithaca / NY: Cornell University Press.
Rigney, A. 2005. Plenitude, Scarcity and the Circulation of Cultural Memory. Journal of European Studies 35(1): 209-226.
Rigney, A. 2007. Divided Pasts: A Premature Memorial and the Dynamics of Collective Remembrance. Memory Studies 1(1): 89-97.
Rigney, A. 2012 (forthcoming). The Afterlives of Walter Scott: Memory on the Move. Oxford: Oxford University Press.