The Sins of the Fathers: Germany, Memory, Method

University of Chicago Press
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National identity and political legitimacy always involve a delicate balance between remembering and forgetting. All nations have elements in their past that they would prefer to pass over—the catalog of failures, injustices, and horrors committed in the name of nations, if fully acknowledged, could create significant problems for a country trying to move on and take action in the present. Yet denial and forgetting carry costs as well.

Nowhere has this precarious balance been more potent, or important, than in the Federal Republic of Germany, where the devastation and atrocities of two world wars have weighed heavily in virtually every moment and aspect of political life. The Sins of the Fathers confronts that difficulty head-on, exploring the variety of ways that Germany’s leaders since 1949 have attempted to meet this challenge, with a particular focus on how those approaches have changed over time. Jeffrey K. Olick asserts that other nations are looking to Germany as an example of how a society can confront a dark past—casting Germany as our model of difficult collective memory.
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About the author

Jeffrey K. Olick is professor of sociology and history at the University of Virginia. He is the author of The Politics of Regret: On Collective Memory and Historical Responsibility and In the House of the Hangman: The Agonies of German Defeat, 1943–49, the latter published by the University of Chicago Press.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Nov 24, 2016
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Pages
496
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ISBN
9780226386522
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Europe / Germany
History / General
Political Science / History & Theory
Social Science / Sociology / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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In the past decade, Jeffrey Olick has established himself as one of the world’s pre-eminent sociologists of memory (and, related to this, both cultural sociology and social theory). His recent book on memory in postwar Germany, In the House of the Hangman (University of Chicago Press, 2005) has garnered a great deal of acclaim. This book collects his best essays on a range of memory related issues and adds a couple of new ones. It is more conceptually expansive than his other work and will serve as a great introduction to this important theorist. In the past quarter century, the issue of memory has not only become an increasingly important analytical category for historians, sociologists and cultural theorists, it has become pervasive in popular culture as well. Part of this is a function of the enhanced role of both narrative and representation – the building blocks of memory, so to speak – across the social sciences and humanities. Just as importantly, though, there has also been an increasing acceptance of the notion that the past is no longer the province of professional historians alone. Additionally, acknowledging the importance of social memory has not only provided agency to ordinary people when it comes to understanding the past, it has made conflicting interpretations of the meaning of the past more fraught, particularly in light of the terrible events of the twentieth century.

Olick looks at how catastrophic, terrible pasts – Nazi Germany, apartheid South Africa – are remembered, but he is particularly concerned with the role that memory plays in social structures. Memory can foster any number of things – social solidarity, nostalgia, civil war – but it always depends on both the nature of the past and the cultures doing the remembering. Prior to his studies of individual episodes, he fully develops his theory of memory and society, working through Bergson, Halbwachs, Elias, Bakhtin, and Bourdieu.

Christopher R. Browning’s shocking account of how a unit of average middle-aged Germans became the cold-blooded murderers of tens of thousands of Jews—now with a new afterword and additional photographs.

Ordinary Men is the true story of Reserve Police Battalion 101 of the German Order Police, which was responsible for mass shootings as well as round-ups of Jewish people for deportation to Nazi death camps in Poland in 1942. Browning argues that most of the men of RPB 101 were not fanatical Nazis but, rather, ordinary middle-aged, working-class men who committed these atrocities out of a mixture of motives, including the group dynamics of conformity, deference to authority, role adaptation, and the altering of  moral norms to justify their actions. Very quickly three groups emerged within the battalion: a core of eager killers, a plurality who carried out their duties reliably but without initiative, and a small minority who evaded participation in the acts of killing without diminishing the murderous efficiency of the battalion whatsoever.

While this book discusses a specific Reserve Unit during WWII, the general argument Browning makes is that most people succumb to the pressures of a group setting and commit actions they would never do of their own volition.  

Ordinary Men is a powerful, chilling, and important work with themes and arguments that continue to resonate today.

“A remarkable—and singularly chilling—glimpse of human behavior...This meticulously researched book...represents a major contribution to the literature of the Holocaust."—Newsweek

 


 

States of Memory illuminates the construction of national memory from a comparative perspective. The essays collected here emphasize that memory itself has a history: not only do particular meanings change, but the very faculty of memory—its place in social relations and the forms it takes—varies over time. Integrating theories of memory and nationalism with case studies, these essays stake a vital middle ground between particular and universal approaches to social memory studies.

The contributors—including historians and social scientists—describe societies’ struggles to produce and then use ideas of what a “normal” past should look like. They examine claims about the genuineness of revolution (in fascist Italy and communist Russia), of inclusiveness (in the United States and Australia), of innocence (in Germany), and of inevitability (in Israel). Essayists explore the reputation of Confucius among Maoist leaders during China’s Cultural Revolution; commemorations of Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States Congress; the “end” of the postwar era in Japan; and how national calendars—in signifying what to remember, celebrate, and mourn—structure national identification. Above all, these essays reveal that memory is never unitary, no matter how hard various powers strive to make it so.

States of Memory will appeal to those scholars-in sociology, history, political science, cultural studies, anthropology, and art history-who are interested in collective memory, commemoration, nationalism, and state formation.

Contributors. Paloma Aguilar, Frederick C. Corney, Carol Gluck, Matt K. Matsuda, Jeffrey K. Olick, Francesca Polletta, Uri Ram, Barry Schwartz, Lyn Spillman, Charles Tilly, Simonetta Falasca Zamponi, Eviatar Zerubavel, Tong Zhang

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