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Lise Zurné MA

PhD candidate

E-mail: zurne@eshcc.eur.nl

Performing Urban Pasts: Historical Reenactments with Sensitive Heritage

Erasmus University Rotterdam
Project: War! Popular Culture and European Heritage of Major Armed Conflicts
Promotor(es): Prof. dr. Maria Grever, Prof. dr. Stijn Reijnders, Dr Robbert-Jan Adriaansen
Aanstelling: vanaf september 2017

Historical re-enactments are usually seen as merely entertaining: a hobby of ‘boys and toys’. Academic historians are often sceptical of such practices, as they can easily generate simplified and distorted representations of the past. But what do historical re-enactments tell us about how people interpret the past? What happens when ‘historical reality’ and imagination merge?
Some scholars have argued that we re-enactment and other bodily practices provide us with a different kind of historical knowledge, namely an embodied one. Many of those scholars draw on R.G. Collingwood’s book The Idea of History (1946). In this book, he argued that one should go beyond analysing relics, ruins and testimonies, by ‘immersing’ into the past, trying ‘to discover the thoughts and motivations of historical actors at the time the event is unfolding’. However, for him, this was a purely intellectual activity, not physical.
Several scholars have argued that we should understand historical re-enactments according to this principle. Not only does it contribute to historical understanding, it can also be seen as a process of critical examination: the performer is both subject and object, actor and audience. Jerome De Groot argues that this duality opens the way for ‘unseen’ history. Rather than the organized, chronological and structured narrations we find in textbooks, re-enactment exposes ‘a complexity of historical interaction which is missing in much academic or official history’. Vanessa Agnew goes even further by stating that re-enactment ‘democratises’ knowledge by finding modes of historical representation that invite participation.
The proposed research uses a comparative method in order to research those tensions and negotiations that arise while representing the past through re-enactment. It will therefore specifically focus on images of the enemy in regard to sensitive heritage performed in an urban context. I’ve chosen to limit this research to the period 1940-1949, and will explore the re-enactment of the Second World War in Brielle (the Netherlands), the re-enactment of the decolonization in Yogyakarta (Indonesia), and and the re-enactment of the Second World War in Diest or Bon-Secour (Belgium).