From Monuments to Installations: Aspects of Memorialization in Historical Exhibitions about the National Socialist Era

  • Chloe Paver


Exhibitions and memorials are generally classed as two quite distinct creative products: memorials have traditionally been fixed in place, made of lasting materials, executed in one primary medium, and addressed largely to our sense of sight. Exhibitions, by contrast, are constructed of multiple materials and media (often including sound), are not designed to last forever,1 and have the potential to be mobile (at least when limited to simple displays). Doubtless one could chip away at these easy contrasts: one might, for instance, follow Thomas Haakenson, who, in his chapter for this volume, draws on Walter Benjamin’s concept of the ‘tactile’. For Benjamin, Haakenson explains, human beings appropriate reality partly by ‘tactile’ means, that is, by habituated (repeated and unreflected) movements of the body through space — in contradistinction to optical appropriation, which involves a more static and focused ‘contemplation’.2 Both memorials and exhibitions demand a combination of ‘contemplation’ and ‘tactile appropriation’, since both require an embodied viewer to move in relation to what is displayed, using movements which are to a large degree a matter of ‘habit’, in Benjamin’s sense. In the case of memorials, however, such movement has traditionally been of a fairly ritualized kind (wreath-laying, placing of stones on grave markers, and so on), whereas movement through exhibitions, while still hedged about with social prescriptions and expectations, is arguably much more open to individual response.


Display Case Holocaust Memorial Memorial Site Exhibition Space Shoe Leather 
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  1. 9.
    For a brief overview of the existing literature, which, however, is only peripherally concerned with design techniques, see C. Paver, ‘Exhibiting the National Socialist Past: An Overview of Recent German Exhibitions’, Journal of European Studies, 39(2009), 227–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Chloe Paver 2010

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  • Chloe Paver

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