Towards a Global History of the Politics of History since 1945

In what way and to what extent are local historical narratives about recent repression and war experiences influenced by global frames of reference?

This question emanates from the observation that transnational historiography, entangled history and global history have been returning to the theoretical arena during recent years and are beginning to affect the study of collective remembrance. On one hand, such a development is highly welcome if it puts local occurrences into relation with other site- and group-specific events and with broader phenomena. However, most transnational research on social memory and historical representations has shown a rather universalist approach: dominant transnational discourses are interpreted as overly determinant explicatory factors for local narratives.

This approach aims to contribute to a redirection of that tendency and to advance empirical knowledge about the development and configuration of history-referential public spheres. It does so by means of a diachronic analysis of politics of history in their global complexity. A double perspective that focuses on the interdependences of global and local factors can best explain why and how history-referential discourses have been constructed since 1945. The primary research objects are protagonists of social memory agency, their arguments, their political context and their interaction, both within specific communication arenas and with reference to emerging global public spheres.

Empirical research project:
The Politics of History of Anticolonialism in the Twentieth Century

This project, currently under review by the ERC and the Austrian Research Fund, focusses on the perceptions of history at play in anticolonial politics during the 20th century from a perspective of global history: How did the historical references of anti- and postcolonial politics emerge on a global scale during the 20th century and how was this development structured? To what degree did anticolonial politics of history draw on agent-specific (local, regional) experiences and/or develop in interaction with external actors (on a potentially global scale)? What was the nature of this interaction and who was involved?

In the course of decolonization, “counter histories” of marginalized groups have challenged the Western canon of national and transnational narrations of progress. Social movements and agencies of political protest have specific ways of telling their own history and employing historical narratives for their cause. Even more, cycles of transnational exchange in political agency and discourse have influenced the regionally specific movements through time. If history is relevant for politics, then anticolonial politics of history have shaped the 20th century.

The protagonists of this politics are related to each other in shifting and heterogeneous cultures of remembrance, negotiating the meaning of the past within specific relations of forces, which can best be theorized in the concept of mnemonic hegemony. The politics of history of anticolonialism is the concept that tries to analyze these relations historically. This project will break new ground and systematically identify, analyze and edit sources concerning the historic development of these politics of history.

Guided by the mentioned research interests, a variety of specific issues will be tackled in the five case studies of the project by complementary empirical approaches. The central research strand supplies the diachronic backbone: the development of a transnational and growingly global interaction of anti/postcolonial rhetoric during the 20th century. Its main source is the documentation of specific international conferences, which form a timeline from 1900 to 2001. The speeches and documents produced around these conferences constitute the axis of globalizing discourse to which the project’s other case studies will relate. These studies focus on temporally, regionally and group-specific, but always transnational anticolonial politics of history in South Asia, North and Sub-Saharan Africa, and the politics of history of anti-imperialism with special attention to Latin America.