Transcultural memory

> Par Erll, Astrid
   Goethe Universität Frankfurt
> Published on : 21.04.2015

“Transcultural memory” emerged in or around 2010 within the field of memory studies. The “transcultural turn” (Bond & Rapson 2014) describes the programmatic move away from the assumption that memory is the product of bounded “cultures”, often national cultures at that – an idea which had crept into a large section of memory research, especially in the wake of Pierre Nora’s lieux de mémoire. Proponents of transcultural memory studies criticize such “methodological culturalism”. They emphasize instead the fluidity and fuzziness of memory in culture as well as the non-isomorphy of culture, nation, territory, social groups, and memory (see the articles in Parallax 17 (4), 2011, ed. Crownshaw). As a theory and methodology, transcultural memory means a change in the focus attention: from stable and allegedly “pure” national-cultural memory towards the movements, connections, and mixing of memories.

In our globalizing age, archives and repertoires of memory have increasingly become interlinked, the prominent example being the ways in which Holocaust memory has travelled virtually across the globe and was turned into a language that enabled people to address other cases of the violation of human rights. Scholars have addressed this dynamics as “memory in the global age” (Levy & Sznaider 2006) and as “multidirectional memory” (Rothberg 2009).        However, “transcultural memory” does not only refer to (1) such deliberate and productive connection of memories that were formerly considered as distinct and belonging to different groups; it can more generally be conceived of as (2) the movement of mnemonic archives across spatial, temporal, and social, but also linguistic and medial borders (Erll 2011) as well as (3) the mixing of memories in contexts of high cultural complexity. Memory is fundamentally transcultural. No version of the past and no product in the archive will ever belong to just one community or place, but usually has its own history of “travel and translation”. This is not only the case in our present age of globalization, but as mnemohistory has shown, this holds also true in a longue durée-perspective on memory.


Bond, Lucy & Jessica Rapson (eds.), The Transcultural Turn: Interrogating Memory between and beyond Borders, Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 2014.

Crownshaw, Richard, Transcultural Memory, Special Issue Parallax 17 (4), 2011.

Erll, Astrid, ‘Travelling Memory’, Parallax 17 (4), 2011, 4-18.

Levy, Daniel & Natan Sznaider, The Holocaust and Memory in the Global Age, Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2006.

Rothberg, Michael, Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization, Stanford: Stanford UP, 2009.

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