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Questioning Traumatic Heritage: Spaces of Memory in Europe, Argentina, Colombia

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SPEME (Questioning Traumatic Heritage: Spaces of Memory in Europe, Argentina, Colombia)

Reporting period: 2018-07-01 to 2020-06-30

SPEME takes as its specific object of investigation a various array of traumatic heritage sites and spaces of memory in Europe, Argentina and Colombia, such as museums, former detention centers and clandestine camps to investigate how various traumatic heritages and pasts can be preserved, narrated and transmitted through space, and which kind of innovative actions might both improve knowledge of the past and serve as an opening to actual issues and new social subjects. The project builds on international and inter-sectorial networks which make possible transfers of knowledge, both between difficult and contested pasts in different historical and geographical contexts (Europe and South America) and between academic researchers, museum curators and professionals. SPEME also investigates the complementary competences which cultural institutions and agents promote at fueling powerful knowledge exchanges at the theoretical, methodological and practical levels. Through a rich combination of methodological and theoretical approaches (concept-oriented, object-oriented and user-oriented approaches), SPEME has few or no precedents in the field of trauma and semiotics, heritage and memory studies and museum studies and offers valuable insights about the dynamics of memory, musealization, appropriation and commodification of traumatic heritages and pasts in the present.
Speme’s overall objectives are:
-To coordinate and implement innovative activities of a network encompassing international and inter-sectoral institutions aimed at examining creative ways through which traumatic heritage and pasts in Europe and South America can be preserved, represented, transformed and transmitted in different spaces and sites of memory.
-To develop smooth, effective and constant transfer of knowledge between academic and non-academic partners and national and international networks
-To advance the current state of the art on memory studies and sites of memory
-To devise guidelines for original and creative activities and practices for the representation and sharing of traumatic heritage including imagining and testing new politics of transmission in actual spaces of memory and the ways in which these spaces foster transnational dialogues and tolerance.
The work performed in the first half of the project followed and respected what was indicated in the WPs.
Within the frame of Work Package 1: Politics of Memory in Space. Theory and Methodology, we have worked extensively on the definition of a shared trans-disciplinary methodology. Moreover, we started a comparative research on different models of monumentalisation of “difficult heritage” in Italy and the Netherlands, on the one hand, and in Colombia and Argentina, on the other hand. Finally, we have been working on how heritage and museums can be used and positively exploited as a tool for informal education. Within this frame, we have organized a first training workshop on “Education through museums” with the participation of experts and professionals of the field.

Within the frame of Work package 2: The Value of Cultural Heritage, we organized several workshops on archives e digital technologies. Due to COVID 19 pandemic, we couldn’t accomplish the training workshop on “Interactive Museums” as planned (in Fossoli). However, we decided to merge this workshop with the one on “Transnational Storytelling in the museum” and to hold in their place an on line workshop with the participation of young adult (20/30 years old) second generation immigrants or students, who have come to Italy from geographical areas with recent traumatic histories.
We have worked extensively on Heritage, memory and identity in order to better understand the relation between traumatic heritage and cultural systems. We also engaged in fieldwork visiting many traumatic places and memory museums in each of the involved country.

Within the frame of Work package 3: Spaces for Reconciliation and Human Rights: Museums and Civil Society, we have been working on the possible connections between the contemporary “culture of memory” and the discourse of Human rights, in particular in Colombia and Argentina
We couldn’t organize the training workshop on “Connecting human rights in sites of memory” planned at ESMA, in month 21, because of COVID19.
We have been working on designing tools for an “active memory” and practices of reconciliation to stimulate an active memory among new generations. Within this frame, we organized several public lectures during the “anniversary week” (1) (Buenos Aires), to discuss with members of the civil society the legacy of the traumatic memory of the dictatorship, and a training workshop on “Transition, possible futures and peace construction: Paths to reconciliation?” (UNAL)

As for Work package 4: Dissemination, several publications are under process, in particular:
- Special Issue, “Traumatic Spaces: Heritage, Memory and Art”, International Journal of Heritage, Memory and Conflict Journal, June 2021
- “Questioning Traumatic Heritage: Spaces of Memory in Europe and South America” (monograph under contract, “Heritage and Memory Studies” series, Amsterdam University Press, June 2022).

On top of that, we have organized a series of activities to disseminate the findings of SPEME to wider audiences, including mass media and social media. These activities consist in:
• a website (www.speme.eu)
• a Facebook Page of the project – month 6 @speme.memory
• the first of the annual bulletins aimed at informing non-academic audiences about SPEME’s activities (months 10, 22, 34, 46)
What makes SPEME a unique project is: 1) the combination of comparative academic and professional research and approaches of traumatic heritage and memory politics in Europe and South America. 2) the conceptual and analytical theorization of the fragmentary and contested nature of official histories and local memories; 3) the multiple analytical levels of inter-sectional and international transfer of knowledge between academics and professionals in the fields of traumatic heritage and memory studies.

Since the start of the project, SPEME’s themes, events and discussions attracted a large network and institutional collaboration from various scholars and experts in the cross-cultural fields of heritage and memory studies, semiotics and trauma, museum studies, arts, literature and culture, media and gender studies, postcolonial studies, history, Holocaust and genocide studies, conflict and identity studies, conservation and restoration, digital heritage, peace studies, anthropology, sociology, and architecture. SPEME also generated a broader public engagement from other sectors and institutions such as heritage and museum professionals and policy makers involved in governing, managing, planning, designing and transforming heritage practices including heritage practitioners, museum personnel, urban planners and designers, architects as well as Unesco, ICOMOS and other international organizations and NGOs involved in conflict and traumatic heritage and the aftermath of war in Europe and South-America.