The Presence of the Past - European Cultures of Memory (2011)

Illustrating the Past: History, Media and Popular Culture 

After the Summer School 2010 which, under the heading „Performative Presence of the Past“, dealt with theatric forms of memory and the mise-en-scène of the past, the second year of the IP is focussed on history and historiography: the seminars and workshops will deal with issues of making history in the fields of historiography, popular culture and the processing of pasts and memory in the media. Within the framework of “Illustrating the Past: History, Media and Popular Culture”, investigations will take place that concern, on the one hand, selective methods of theatre historiography and, on the other hand, the particular role of popular culture and new media regarding the thematisation and relativisation of history. Of particular interest are strategies that work towards a clear visualisation or, on the opposite, towards a concealment of memory, as well as the aesthetics of representation in various media formats with regard to a collective cultural memory.  
For registration details please see below.



Seminar 1: Writing and Rewriting National Theatre Histories
Steve Wilmer (Dublin) / Stefan Hulfeld (Wien)

As Hayden White and others have shown, history is not written objectively.  Historians write stories and they find evidence to back up their ideological or theoretical assumptions, amidst changing trends in the practice of historiography.  Moreover, Bruce McConachie has argued that national theatre historians write under the influence of certain presuppositions. ‘Most theatre historians can easily avoid patriotic flag waving, but they are often less adept in steering clear of one of the underlying assumptions that animates fervid nationalists -- the belief that the culture of their country is not only superior, but also singular, with its own roots of origin and its unique historical branches.’ One normally discovers in a national theatre history an implicit attempt to define that nation as distinct from another nation (for example, one which colonized it) or as unique, as Johann von Herder suggested of all nations in the eighteenth century. Thus a national theatre history, like any national history, helps to reinforce the notion of national identity. This seminar will investigate the selective processes of theatre historians.  


Seminar 2: Defying the Stars: Tragic Love as the Struggle for Freedom in Romeo and Juliet

Friedemann Kreuder (Mainz) / Paul Kottman (New York)

Like no other work, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1592) heightens our desire for a tragic love story that we still seek in many forms – in novellas, novels, films, musicals and operas. The most common interpretation of the myth is that it exposes a conflict between the lovers’ individual desires and the reigning demands of family, civic and social norms, in relation to which those desires are formed. We see our loves, aims, and desires as dialectically conditioned by - but never fully reconciled to - whatever our households, our workplaces, and our communal bonds demand of us.
Romeo and Juliet raises the stakes of this dialectical tension between individual subjects and social ‘reality’ to a fever pitch—unto death. And the play does so, unforgettably, by showing sexual love to be the proper horizon of this conflict -- searing our vision of love to our self-awareness as modern subjects, our struggles for freedom and self-realization. This, I think, accounts for much of the play’s critical reception as well as its popular appeal, continuing urgency and relevance.
In the seminar, our aim will be to see if we can replace this paradigmatic interpretation of Romeo and Juliet with a different understanding of love as the struggle for freedom – and, in so doing, to present Shakespeare’s drama as a properly modern vision of our ‘tragic’ subjectivity.


Seminar 3: Unknown traditions of comic practice in 19th century Vienna. Nestroy, Kraus and the canon of Austrian Theatre
Birgit Peter (Wien) / Julia Danielczyk (Wien)

In this seminar we will focus on unknown traditions of well-known authors and/or actors of popular comedies like Johann Nestroy (or critics like his passionate admirer Karl Kraus). Especially Nestroy’s plays “Der Affe und der Bräutigam” or “Der konfuse Zauberer” refer to and satirise international popular practices and artistic genres. In the scope of Nestroy studies these traditions primarily figure as anecdotes. Thus, re-thinking the Viennese popular comedy of the 19th century implies a searching for this “other” of comic practices and opens up a new perspective on canonised values of Viennese popular theatre.  

Seminar 4: "Do you see nothing there?" (Hamlet, III, 4 / 132): Imagining the Past.
Peter W. Marx (Bern)/ Sharon Aronson-Lehavi (Bar-Ilan)

The ‘Closet Scene’ in Hamlet, which presents the second appearance of the Ghost, can be read as discussing the question of the visibility of the past on stage: While Hamlet is deeply moved by the appearance of the ‘gracious figure’ (104), reminding him of his duty, Gertrud is convinced that her son has turned mad. The crucial question: “Do you see nothing there?” leads us to ask how we can make the past and its continuous presence perceptible.
The seminar will focus on different ways of imagining the past in different media, in order to compare the different aesthetic strategies in different cultural spheres: The more artistic approaches seem to center in a basic doubt about the representability of the past, popular culture seems to indulge in a never-ending stream of images of the past. Technically brilliant, these productions (ranging from TV series to computer games) challenge our conception of the past in a fundamental way by filling what was formerly left to the artistic imagination. The comparison of different formats, strategies and narratives will allow us to discuss various cultural strategies to authorise these imaginations and to instil them with political meaning.  


Seminar 5: "Die Erde bewegt sich!" Media and Representations of History
Freddie Rokem (Tel Aviv)/Michael Bachmann (Mainz)

Die Erde bewegt sich (The Earth Moves) was the title of Bertolt Brecht’s first draft (1938) of what would later be known as (Life of) Galileo, a play he rewrote again and again until the mid-fifties, partly in reaction to historical events such as the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Taking its starting point from Brecht’s dramaturgical practice, this seminar will explore the relationship between movement, history and representation: the movements of the planets in Galileo as well as the paradoxically static movement produced by the revolving stage in Mother Courage and Her Children, having Mother Courage’s wagon “move” and “not move” at the same time. We will look at movements across media and art forms, such as the relationship of theatre, photography and film in the case of Mother Courage, or the use of theatre and film in Hans Jürgen Syberberg’s 1997 installation Cave of Memory. We will (virtually) travel the Danube with Philipp Lacoue-Labarthe’s reflections on Heidegger and the “Question Concerning Technology” and will reflect upon the indiscernible movements between “fact” and “fiction” in representations of history.

Readings and examples include: Walter Benjamin’s essay on “The Work of Art” and selections from The Arcades Project; Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children (including the 1960 film version directed by Peter Palitzsch and Manfred Wekwerth as well as Brecht’s ‘model book’); Syberberg’s Brecht film Nach meinem letzten Umzug (1953/1970); the 2004 film The Ister by David Barison and Daniel Ross; and others.

Workshop A: Moving history, shaping politics
Aoife McGrath (Dublin) 

How can the interaction between bodies negotiating movements in performance be seen to reflect the socio-political struggles of bodies in everyday life? Conversely, how can current or historical political events be represented or re-imagined through choreographed movement? Utilizing a variety of choreographic techniques and theatre devising methods, participants will investigate the intersection of dance-theatre and politics in a series of practical workshops. Drawing from text and movement material generated by the group, the workshops will focus on an exploration of mediatized representations of the body, questioning how the shaping of corporealities and societal structures through mediatized images can be re-viewed and problematized in dance-theatre. 

Workshop B: How Television makes History
Bettina Kasten (ZDF, Mainz)

The imagery of television commands like no other our perception of the world and thus becomes the most important medium of our collective cultural memory. The workshop will give an insight into the production and staging of select historical events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall or the death of John Paul II and the subsequent pope election of Benedict XVI. The participants will be introduced to the individual operations – from the selection of the material to the camera positions and the director's concept to the finalisation of the programme. The aim is to compare and discuss the aesthetic and ideological implications of different production methods of documentary or fictional recording of historical events with regard to the changing demands by new technologies. The participants will be asked to analyse scenes of video recordings and to develop their own directing concepts.

Workshop C: Staging (German) History. Dramaturgien des Schreckens. (please note, that this workshop will be held in German)

Julia Pfahl (Mainz) / Christian Mayer (Dramaturg/Staatstheater Darmstadt)

Die Auseinandersetzung mit der nationalsozialistischen Vergangenheit ist in Deutschland immer verbunden mit dem Erbe der Schuld an der Katastrophe des Holocaust. Vor dem Hintergrund einer schwierigen Distanznahme zu den Geschehnissen des Dritten Reichs zeichnet sich auch die künstlerische Beschäftigung mit dieser Geschichte oftmals durch eine vor allem (selbst)kritische und demütige Haltung aus und es ist meist das unendliche Leid ihrer Opfer, das in den Vordergrund der künstlerischen Auseinandersetzung rückt.
Demgegenüber erscheinen bissige Ironie, entlarvende Parodierungen sowie die Verzerrung des Grauens ins Groteske wie etwa im Werk George Taboris oder in Quentin Tarantinos Film „Inglorious Basterds“ als künstlerische Form der Auseinandersetzung angesichts der Gräuel der Shoa auf den ersten Blick oft als unangemessen oder befremdlich. Im Rahmen dieser Übung sollen auf der Basis verschiedener Beispiele unterschiedliche dramaturgische Strategien satirischer und grotesker Formen der Inszenierung deutscher Geschichte untersucht werden und gefragt werden, inwieweit der jeweilige biografische Kontext des Künstlers für die Bewertung der Werke eine Rolle spielt.


Supporting Programme

The seminars and workshops will be framed by an extensive supporting programme. An evening lecture series, presentation panels for doctoral students and a themed cultural programme that includes excursions are complementing the working process. The aim is to establish a tight network on both an academic as well as on a social level which will serve as a basis on which to continue research projects such as the IP far into the future.  



A limited number of places is available to students from the two partner universities, University of Vienna and Trinity College Dublin to attend the Summer School at a discounted rate of 79 Euros. This includes accommodation and lunchtime meals as well as all seminars, workshops, lectures and the reimbursement of up to 90% of the costs of your travel.To download the registration form please click here.
Students from universities other than Vienna and Dublin, please contact Caroline Fries (friesc(at) ) to receive further information.