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The ‘international turn’ is well and truly upon us. Over the past two decades, the rise of international history has plucked long-forgotten historical actors from obscurity, bred new historical methodologies, and brought new subject matter to the fore. In doing so, international history has reconfigured how we think about histories of politics, economics, and women, alongside the national, the transnational, and the global. But what might the study of memory have to add to this new international history?

On 19 and 21 August 2015, an interdisciplinary group of scholars convened first in Sydney and then Melbourne to answer this question, and to launch the Laureate’s ‘Sites of International Memory’ project. The project aims to recover sites of international memory as ‘memories’ of internationalism, global governance, and intellectual cooperation, in an era of nation-states. The two workshops were sponsored by a number of organisations: the Laureate Research Program in International History; the Australian National Commission for UNESCO in connection with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; and the Australian Centre for Architectural History, Urban and Cultural Heritage at the University of Melbourne. Across the two days, speakers considered how sites of international memory have figured within national and international histories. The particular sites in question were conceptually and temporally diverse: from buildings to ideas to postage stamps. Lively discussion attended each paper, as participants hashed out what this project might look like. These conversations are set to continue well into the future, with edited volumes and future events planned with Madeleine Herren (Basel), Davide Rodogno (Geneva), and Peter Becker (Vienna).

The Sydney workshop began with an introduction from Professor Glenda Sluga, the project’s director and Laureate head. Professor Sluga posed a number of stimulating methodological and epistemological questions for the project, and drew attention to Michael Rothberg’s work on memory, in particular his conceptual framework for studying ‘noeuds de mémoire’ (‘knots of memory’). Subsequent discussion amongst workshop participants highlighted Rothberg’s emphasis on a multidirectional approach to memory, and how this might play out in relation to sites of international memory. Jay Winter (Yale) delivered the first paper of the day, in which he argued that the Historial de la grande guerre—the international museum of the Great War, founded by Winter and others in 1992 in Péronne, France—functioned as a transnational site of memory. Winter pointed to the use of the horizontal axis in the organisation of the museum, and an interest in authenticity over verisimilitude, as a means of enacting transnational memory. Marco Duranti (Sydney) continued this focus on physical space with a paper on the 1913 Peace Palace of the Hague. As Duranti explained, the Palace blended neo-Renaissance architecture with Christian and humanist iconography. This pre-modern aesthetic, Duranti argued, was reflective of an early twentieth-century romantic internationalism, which sought to unite opposing political groups behind a common internationalist cause. Finally, Roland Burke (La Trobe) explored postage stamps commemorative of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights as constitutive of transnational and international memories.

The Melbourne workshop opened with a panel on UNESCO and its place in the Sites of International Memory project. Jens Boel (UNESCO) spoke first about UNESCO’s Memory of the World project—which aims to preserve and promote documentary heritage—and how sites of international memory might be protected. The focus of the panel then moved closer to home, as I (in the role of Laureate affiliate and researcher) surveyed the rich archival record of UNESCO’s involvement with Australia. My report formed part of the ‘Documenting UNESCO in Australia’ project, which seeks to recover this history of UNESCO in Australia, and which focuses in particular on the research areas of migration, cultural heritage, natural sciences and world heritage. Participants then benefited from a series of papers by major practitioners in museum and cultural heritage studies. William Logan (Deakin) assessed the prospect of Gelibolu (Gallipoli) being inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, and what this might mean for memories of the First World War in Turkey and Australia. Anoma Pieris (Melbourne) compared Pacific War commemoration at two sites of wartime internment in Australia and the US, arguing that the seemingly innocuous architecture of settler colonies assumes a more violent undertone when associated with racist conflict. Turning to contemporary practices in museology, Jennifer Barrett (Sydney) probed the tensions between universalism and human rights discourses as central to the activist platform of the Federation of International Human Rights Museums. Lastly, Andrea Witcomb (Deakin) tracked the development of what she termed a ‘pedagogy of feeling’ within museum practices: a pedagogy designed to facilitate affective encounters between visitors and the past.

Ultimately, these workshops were an exciting sign of things to come. Workshop discussions flagged numerous avenues for future engagement between this new international history and the history of memory, and participants were coaxed into taking serious the possibility for interdisciplinary engagement. All this bodes well for the future of the Sites of International Memory project.

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