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Globalized Memorial Museums. Exhibiting Atrocities in the Era of Claims for Moral Universals

Project description

Holocaust and genocide - representations of atrocities

It has never been systematically analysed whether the alleged ‘globalisation of memory’ really took place and if the Holocaust has become a global historical reference for human rights. The EU-funded GMM project tests this hypothesis by examining 50 memorial museums on four continents, focusing on the WWII period in the US, Israel, Europe, China, and Japan and recent genocides in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. The project looks at several contradictory trends in this regard. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum and Yad Vashem are often-referenced role models for exhibiting individual victims, the German concept of negative memory dealing with individual complicity is rarely copied, while the genocides committed in the 1990s have brought a new focus on forensic excavations.


The ‘universalization of the Holocaust’ has established the Shoah as an historical reference point legitimizing a global moral imperative to respect human rights. Much has been written about the ostensible ‘globalization of memory’, but as yet no genuinely global comparative study systematically confronting this hypothesis with the actual representations of atrocities exists. GMM breaks new ground by examining memorial museums on four continents, arguing that what is called ‘globalization’ in fact comprises three to some degree contradictory trends:
1) The US Holocaust Memorial Museum and Yad Vashem are role models for a universal moral orientation that focuses on the individual victim and generates aesthetic ‘standards’ for musealization.
2) The German concept of negative memory, self-critically confronting the crimes committed by her own population, has inspired museums to tackle the question of one’s own complicity in order to challenge collective self-victimization and the externalization of responsibility.
3) The genocides of the 1990s led to a ‘forensic turn’: the investigation of bones & other material evidence of atrocities has changed the way in situ memorial museums deal with material traces of violence. This shift has also impacted ‘old’ memorial sites like Sobibor, which has become a site of archaeological research after 70 years.
GMM examines 50 memorial museums dealing with
- the WWII period in the US, Israel, Europe, China, and Japan;
- recent genocides in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.
Scholars claim that ‘globalized’ memorial museums reflect new moral standards and a new language of commemoration, but what is the price of the attendant de-contextualization in the name of moral universals? GMM’s wholly original global typology of memorial museums has the potential to act as a genuine game changer that challenges the concept of ‘universal memory’ and the notion that memorial museums constitute a globalized space of communication and negotiation.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 947 513,75
1010 Wien

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Ostösterreich Wien Wien
Activity type
Research Organisations
Total cost
€ 1 947 513,75

Beneficiaries (1)