The Holocaust: The Site of Memory, Site of Contestation and Collective Consciousness

By Faruk Arslan


Shared and conflicted individual, collective, official and public past memories challenge the notion of Truth, the notion of authenticity and of modernism as a memory which is a social construction in the present. The legitimating of history process occurs under the power of politics with the use of ritualization, relativization and symbolization when building the collective consciousness that turns an object memory to the site memory in having the contestation of group identity or counter memory. Many official histories have been created through fabrication and selections from the past for the social framing of the national consciousness as a model for society in the cultural system for continuity of solidarity. Historical remembrance shows whose history is written for whose benefit and is recorded with discursive ways of understanding one‘s own history, although ignoring other mysteries. The memory becomes a metaphor with narratives, whereas sites of memory become the sites of second-order memory where people remember others at particular places and how they were victimized. This socio-historical research will explore the ethnic politics of the remembrance and amnesia of Jews in the Holocaust, which can be understood within the context of a particular dialectic of memory and how it has become the ―site of memory,‖ ―site of contestation‖ and ―collective consciousness‖ that provides information from the past to the present and reconstructs our responsibilities and leads the malleability of history.
Key Words: Holocaust, Memory, Contestation, Consciousness, Reparation, Reconciliation, Forgiveness


Many scholars agreed on the concept that past memories shape the future but adapt to the new environment in utilitarian morality in modernity. History is not a linear process and many official histories are constructed by the dominant political power which has shifted from ideology to images in memorials, museums and monuments, although shared and conflicted individual, collective, official and public memories challenge the notion of Truth, authenticity and modernism as memory is a social construction in the present. Nation-states and global hegemonic power under the culture of capitalism influence and globalize, and have erased the official histories of many nations and ethics communities in which concerns the memory of the past in their project for progress through enlightenment, rationalization and market freedom, and so forth. New media technologies allow discovering the past which is remembered in unprecedented pace and volume, and at the same time trivialized/forgotten. Furthermore, a successful process of collective representation provides some answers to how the nature of the pains actually happened; what really was the nature of the victims; where and when the traumatized victims had become related to the wider audience; and why an emerging domain of social responsibility and political action became important to establish the identity of antagonism and trauma, collectively (Alexander: 13-15). In this socio-historical research, I will explore the ethnic politics of the remembrance and amnesia of Jews in the Holocaust, which can be understood within the context of a particular dialectic of memory and how it has become the ―site of memory,‖ ―site of contestation‖ and ―collective consciousness‖ that provides information from the past to the present and reconstructs our responsibilities and leads the malleability of history.

The Holocaust as the “Site of Memory”

First of all, history is not as linear as progress, moving in the direction of liberation from the past, present, and future, and many historians have no longer seen history as a chronology with only the aggregation of facts, dates or individual history, in which the psychological life cycle of individuals is created by a small, elite group. Jeffrey Olick explains how the Holocaust is expressed in German history through relavitization and ritualization in the 1950s-60s, where different languages were spoken until 1989. The Holocaust happened in-between 1933-1945 under the Nazi Party regime; millions of Jews were intentionally relocated and killed according to the national socialists‘ goal. Olick mapped out what was eliminated in the traumatic event of Germany and what was understand through revitization that shows Germany as a normal European modernize country (Olicks:261). Ritualization is a form of remembering the Holocaust through symbolizing certain events and creations of certain places, such as memorial days, concentration camps, monuments, museums, paintings, films, dreams, etc. A new unification of the two halves of Germany was challenged after the 1990s politics, whereas economic downturn, political struggle and sovereignty started to be questioned as showing the incomplete nation-state in the 1930s. Memory expands the horizon to redefine, recognize, and intertwine power which was exercised in the social movement of the Jewish collaboration to mobilize (Park, 2010).

In fact, memory has become a powerful method of understanding subjectivity, experience, and power and memory studies have boomed with the technological growth that makes memory inerasable, everywhere and omnipresent, or disposable such as in the case of the Holocaust. The reason for remembering is to have a re-interpretation of history, digging the truth, expanding long-standing experiences, and adding individual and collective resistances and oppositions and private public linkages between individuals and society. Individual trauma has a certain contact of power just as with direct, indirect, and conscious and unconsciousness levels. Halbwachs challenged memory studies is a presentism idea, and an interpretation of the past from the present, and defines memory as a group experience of the past shared by the people in the society where society exists beyond one’s own perception. Memory language is used as a mechanism of power that is inseparable from the axis of power, while memory does play the role in legitimating social classes which ascribe their power not as acquired, but as inherited from the past. No memory is possible outside the frameworks that are used by people living in society to determine and retrieve their re-collections.

There is a distinction between dream and aphasia, where a dream is based only upon itself, and whereas our recollections depend on those of all of the population which follow the great framework of the membership of society (Park, 2010). The reconstruction of the past recalls the mental state through subjects, symbols, pictures, and funny episodes, where the visual memory of engraving even of a page or of some lines might remain. If certain memories are inconvenient or burden us, there is always the opposite that is inseparable from the present life and that is imperfect and incomplete. The localization of memories is part of a totality of thoughts common to a group, similar to elder memories. Everybody has the capacity of memory; individual memory is a part and one aspect of group members in the collective memory. For example, one cannot think about the Holocaust event without discoursing upon it as a single
system of opinions or ideas in a circle and, whereas, the collective memory confines to remember two missing parts in a path.

According to Maurice Halbwachs, history can be malleable based on select social classes/groups, and it can distort the past using such ways as fabrication and repression. Religions, functional nobilities, feudal ideas, laws, and customs are transmitted from traditional society to modern society which is filled with wealthy, rich elites and bourgeoisies as a class of egoism as they have transferred their hierarchy into personified professions in technical activities as their social obscurity (Halbwachs: 155). One might observe WWII as an ―object of memory‖; however, Schwartz combats this idea and refers to WWII as a ―site of memory‖ in a time of crises (Schwartz: 908). He goes on to further state that his goal is not to address or understand the ―memory of a crisis,‖ but rather that it is ―memory in a time of crisis‖ (Schwartz: 908). Therefore, Schwartz defines memory ―as a cultural system,‖ a system in which memory is seen as a ―symbolic pattern of commemoration‖ (Schwartz: 909). For example, the framing of President Abraham Lincoln‘s image during the post-war period was a fabrication through symbols within which music and images connect and the past and present combined in a way to understand and perceive current issues, which are made visible through public discourse that works through institutions and organizations of the social realm. Historical discourse can easily be created within the power structure through legitimation, orientation, clarification, inspiration and consolation, while collective memory has become the model for society as the past events are ―keyed by the present‖ which is “the past invoked as a frame for understanding the present‖ (Schwartz: 911).

The Holocaust can be seen as a series of past events that are‖ keyed to the present,‖ an expression of the society that ―needs problems, fears, mentality, and aspirations‖ where memory is ―an expressive symbol,‖ a language for expressing current issues as reflective aspects, and the collective memory has become the model for society as a site of memory (Schwartz: 910).
The problem of the unreliable individual memory can always be arisen by forgetting and denial, repression and trauma, and more often not serving the need to rationalize and maintain power. Of course, amnesia is a dangerous cultural virus where mythic memory appears under the influence of media technologies. For example, the Holocaust has been seen with the failure of the Western civilization—particularly on the blame of only Germans which was very problematic though European society and leaders were silenced as a whole—and in general, the practice of amnesia has locked in with the memory of the Holocaust even 50 years after WII. There was an obsessive war against memory, practicing ―an Orwellian falsification of memory, falsification of reality, negation of reality,‖ as the Holocaust was seen together as locking in with the memory of public discourse (Huyssen: 251).

Remembrance as a vital human activity shapes our links to the past and the ways we remember define us in the present. We live in socially constructed societies which have been feeding individuals unconscious desires to guide our most conscious actions, including our mistaken belief in some ultimately pure, complete, and transcendent memory, and at the same time, the strongly remembered past may turn into mythic memory (Huyssen: 250). The place of memory in any culture is defined by an extraordinarily complex discursive web of ritual and mythic, historical, political, and psychological factors which lead political totalitarianisms, colonial enterprises and ecological ravages as the dark side of modernization (Huyssen: 250-251). It is important to conceptualize historical, social and individual components of human behaviour with memory and a socio-historical perspective because the past can provide a genuinely dynamical model of memory operations that show the virtual characteristics of pure memory, but memory is still not a mechanical reproduction of the past in a sense (Park, 2010). Memory ties to social order, which is maintained by power relations, as it is beyond individual persons and becomes a social glue or mechanical organic solidarity if it turns to become a site of memory.
The Holocaust as a “Site of Contestation”
In fact, history is a social construction and many official national histories and nations are imagined communities and structured to ossify the past and block our understanding of historical truth for the sake of the continuity of society. Truth is imposed by society; history is a fabrication and selection in the form of memory. Society creates a total fiction of history. History is malleable, changeable or only certain facts can change. Halbwachs always mentions the reflection of the present construction in the past, in which the present defends history; this should be a non-linear progress, which can be interpreted and changed. History is moving into rationalization which is a driven force. If history doesn‘t move forward to liberate society, it is linear (Park, 2010). Since the 1980s, memory has been seen as a ―site of contestation,‖ for instance, the Holocaust is a site of memory, meaning that the memory of the Holocaust is constructed, contested, re-remembered, forgotten and transformed. It proves that history is non-linear and changeable. An object of the Holocaust is a powerful memory on politics which has become the site memory in having the contestation of group identity or counter memory. Languages, dreams and films are used as mediums of remembrance of the event of the Holocaust memory as the method which is of understanding subjectivity, experience, and power in society.

Holocaust objects and things may embody truth, but such things may also be linked to unrealized utopian images; its ruins are the concept of subjects and subjectivity as their capacity and subterranean unconscious can be used in a non-linguistic way. Memory can be a social construction in the present whether it is collective memory, official memory, individual memory, or public memory. Nietzsche showed his individual memory about military totalitarianism, noble biases and the ignorance of racism which led to the Holocaust and drove Germany into trouble twice in the twentieth century. A crisis occurred during the representation of the Germans‘ colonial history, cruelty, and falsification of history, and they drew lines in-between the boundaries of ethnicity and nationality and put conflict during the Cold War period. After the two Germany‘s unified in the 1990s, there arose more physical sites indicating public commemoration with gestures, words and symbols that acted as mutual aspects of the past at sites of the Holocaust memory such as museums, memorials, and monuments, and they conflicted with politics and the power structure in society, whereas ―communities have to deal sooner or later with the construction of a commemorative form in a surrounding of the official history ritual that public commemoration has flourished within the orbit of civil society, which has been both irresistible and unsustainable since post-modernity‖ (Winter: 322-323-324).

The creation of a new master Holocaust narrative is a key issue wherein a cross-referential was correlated successfully and given the meaning ―the causality even though the issue is left to be forgotten in amnesia structurally,‖ intentionally and officially (Alexander: 12). For example, when Jews unified their own nationalism, the Holocaust become a symbol of knowledge production that creates anti-Semitism politics both in the Israel and Jewish diasporas, especially in the US, Canada, and Europe which are powerful influences on politics, as ―they symbolize and recognize hyper-militarization as an object of violence and a site of contestation with a history of collective trauma‖ within constructed and official military aggression, historically, economically and politically (Cho: 90-91). In the case of post-modernity, a society‘s memory is negotiated in the social body‘s beliefs and values, rituals and institutions; it is shaped by such public sites of memory as the museum, the memorial, and the monument.

There are still lacking answers for our predicament, and this is an expansive historicism of our contemporary culture, for instance, Western culture in the 1970s and 1980s when museums and memorials were built as if there was no tomorrow (Huyssen: 253). One problem is that a victim falls to the magical power of image protection as the strategy of narcissistic derealisation, wherein the individual victim has disappeared in the memory of the Holocaust, demonstrating the victim-logical point of view that individuals are losing their representativeness in the larger context of the Holocaust. Another reason is real difference, in which real otherness in historical time or geographic distance can no longer even be perceived as a game played by nihilistic intellectuals. The third reason can be seen either as the key paradigm in post-modern culture or as the suffering from an overload of memories and a glut of museums (Huyssen: 253). Public memory is favored neither officially nor individually but the re-interpretation through public discussion in civil society and museums is not made as an individual-driven project, but rather as a social product made through public debates. Capitalism creates another problem: that our culture‘s undisputed tendency toward amnesia is under the sign of immediate profit and short-term politics. The Holocaust memory is both a site of memory and site of culture, and memory is a crisis because of its use for one‘s own profit-making purposes. This memory provides for social consciousness and tells of conflict, and talks about power inequality in society where the individual stands and how society conceptualizes.

The Holocaust memory is testing the official history of Germany through individual memories and bringing individuals to picture. Holocaust museums, memorials and monuments cannot be seen as somehow separate from this post-modern memorial culture because museums on the topic are built and monuments erected in Israel, whereas, Germany and Europe as well as the United States are clearly part of that larger cultural phenomenon for whom the Holocaust is either a mythic memory or cliché (Huyssen: 255-256). Returning individual memories has become the site of contestation of group identity as a counter memory. The democratization and proliferation of memory maintains monuments in spaces of the public in which it is ossified in public contestation that leads to both state and public discussions and debates. Monuments have freed memory to focus on more than just a fact, but without facts, there is no real memory. The genocide of the Jews and its monuments are understood differently from country to country, in terms of aesthetic, locality, and historical perceptions, and some see the Jews as having lost their ethnic identity or narcissistic inquiry and ritual breast beating, and having been put under repression. Americans see themselves as their liberators from camps and have provided for refugees and immigrants a haven; however, Israel sees a history of suffering and the starting point of a new national history, self assertion and resistance (Huyssen: 257).

This memory invokes the dispute of continuity in time of crises as the contestation of power which is contestant among dominant groups, oppressed forces and power structure. Multiple voices invoke a site of dispute in public space, disable a fake continuity, official narrative and organic solidarity. Walter Benjamin talks about the collective unconsciousness of the individual as being more powerful than the collective conscious, where he wasn‘t interested in the contestation of history, found away memory with mythic and utopian images, and tied up political changes and the meaning of multiple forces (Morss: 112). The existence of differences may provide a new way for history through fascism, nationalism, capitalism and socialism, but Benjamin had not yet realized when wishful thinking would take place in Western societies; unexpectedly, the collective unconscious created a new future. German crises of culture and interpretation of being the superior race may be responsible for the Holocaust trauma. The theory of cultural traumas apply the site of contestation, without prejudice to any and all instances which societies have, or have not, constructed and experienced cultural traumatic events, and to their efforts to draw, or not draw, the moral lessons that can be said to emanate from them (Park, 2010). A new method of remembering the Holocaust trauma has become popular through innovating projects, and writing personal fragment stories and personal image pictures to analysis what is deeply repressed.
The Holocaust as a “Collective Consciousness”

Moreover, Durkheim helped with the understanding of science with detail in specific studies, such as the collective consciousness, and produced theories and methods used for studying others, and he determined collective memories without mentioning aphasia. Memory is a new reflection of the creation of the collective consciousness and challenges the dominant ideology which creates a different collectivism. The power of cultural form is a mechanism which allows fighting and re-interpreting history. Winter argues that history is subjective, not objective, whereas, the site of memory divides history to be considered objective, while memory is subjective with constructing a narrative. Sites of memories are places where historical remembrance happens, but history is institutionalized by the power elite which is not neutral and that is different from memory. Society cannot separate history from memory, as it needs both.
A group and individual memory are powerful when crates debate and have meaning. Memory is a political power to establish the collective consciousness. Our past reappears in our dreams as a raw material and reminds us that our early childhood might be forgotten, but also reappears in our unconscious which is the isolated place of the brain cell. Halbwachs created a new theory in relation between dream and aphasia, which shows how the reconstruction of the past through collective memories and our childhood plays a role that recalls the mental state through subjects, symbols, pictures, funny episodes, etc. in many visual memories with conceptualizing the historical, social and individual components of human behaviour within the socio-historical perspective (Park, 2010). If a certain memory is incapable, inconvenient or unable to make the separation of images, the past memory is incomplete or unperfected, but our minds reconstruct a new shorter memory under the pressure of society. Apfelbaum gave several examples on how alienation has been suffered by its victims who wanted to forget the horrors of experience or who were incapable of expressing the horrors of torture, due to a lack of collective memory (Apfelbaum: 78).

The location of memories is part of the totality of common thoughts such as within a family or group, which is in similarity with older memories that are sufficient to the adaption or restructuration of contiguity and social obscurity. There is a problem in that different people can have different experiences at the same group, whereas in the same period of time and place within many frameworks that is not accounting as a collective memory. The reality of an individual person‘s memory occurs in the system that is associated with minds unless understanding this individual is a part or aspect of the group of memories. Every individual is remembering differently and is producing a discourse that is different from the other‘s memory. Furthermore, social classes and their traditions are shaping the memories of the noble or ordinary person. For example, giving the judge his position is very crucial where suppressing is within our personality of profession and acting in singularity is in the structure of society in terms of technical activity, whereas the unconsciousness of the brain works out involuntarily in relation with belonging to a certain community or group.

The world of the mind and culture is organized by a symbol in our imagination, even though freedom and the existential anxiety of fear are constructed by the great frameworks of the membership of the society that is either traditional or modern. Schwarts took the society/nation as an entity that is devoid of contestation, conflicts, and transformation and explained that memory is a cultural system that fosters the ―collective consciousness‖ imposed by the group on individuals; here, culture is a system of meanings available for individuals in making sense of their experience and actions (Park, 2010). Communities have provided the continuity of solidarity in times of crises, for instance, in the case of the Holocaust; it invoked continuity as the core belief for use in urgency for the Jewish community, which was functional for building the collective consciousness. There was a real collision and crash between history and memory in the subject position which refers to situating a person‘s position as belonging to a race minority, gender, hierarchy, and profession that create public space. Memory is used for knowledge production in the case of the Holocaust.

An ordinary person‘s oppressed experience is the starting point of memory study versus state version, which unified Jews around the globe. This knowledge is about the past as a collective knowledge that may begin to change as with the power of the individual memory, create new unity and a new national identity, reproduce public commemorative, and challenge the manipulated history, power structure and politics (Yoneyama: 242). As a result, this struggle proved that official memory is contested by homogenizing memory. The contestation of the official state and its invented history has become a failure, as the ordinary citizen has invented new morality, universal values, and utilitarian approaches which turn individual trauma to collective trauma. Trauma is functional to the society to build the collective consciousness and show how citizens are valued members (Park, 2010).
The Holocaust as a Means for Forgiveness, Reparation, and Reconciliation
In addition, forgiveness is a site which tells the public that history was wrong. Resolving historical wrongs may occur in two ways: the states apologize to victims, or they provide an alternative truth and victim-centred moral approach that is about forgiveness. The question is of the malleability of the past in the memory crush. Reparation encompasses transitional justice, apologies, and efforts for reconciliation in a broader political sense, and it is that which refers to compensation as usually of a material kind that is often monetary for some past wrongdoing, such as the Jewish Holocaust victims. Reconciliation, healing and forgiveness efforts are structured through symbols, and national unity is redressed to subsequent reparations politics. Claims for reparations have been spread parallel with the diffusion of the Holocaust consciousness and are what reparations activists use for constitutional human rights values and moralities in laws.

After WWII, Germany and other countries led the way to healing, reparation and reconciliation in which Jaspers argued that there are two basic distinct motivations, which generalize and personalize the distress of responsibilities: that all Germans were responsible for the actions of their country, whereas a person might not have any direct responsibility in someone‘s suffering, but may feel obligated to help as every German should feel personal responsibility and deal with guilt for someone else‘s distress such as a Holocaust victim (Park, 2010). ―The truth generated new anger, revenge, hatred, sorrow, sadness, dis-empowerment, rage and bitterness in a negative manner rather than healing in a positive manner‖ and ―victims seldom reject apologies from wrongdoers when they are forthcoming‖ (Chaplen: 82). Reparations for Holocaust survivors were more about repair of feeling in contrast, and for some today reparations have become synonymous with compensation. Human rights laws and ideologies were transmitted by the United Nations after World War II to ensure that human beings are safe, and since the 1980s, the Basic principles and Guidelines were an example of the spread of legal concepts within international realms coined in domestic contexts.

The reparation process had led to reconciliation in cases of historical injustices, as the demand in terms of constitutional violation was connected to the notion of the wrong being done to the entire ethnics, nations or countries in which the public acknowledged this crime against the Human Right Chapters (Sevy: 87). The repair of shattered social relations may involve trials of perpetrators, purges, truth commissions, and rehabilitation of those wrongly convicted of crimes, whereas monetary compensation and social policies are designed to rectify inequalities rooted in unjust past social arrangements, memorials, and changes in school history curricula and more. Reparations politics share a common language and outlook concerning the importance of the past for moving forward into the present. The broad field of reparations politics includes: transitional justice, compensation, apology/regret, and pursuit of the communicative history. A key focus is on claims against the destruction of culture and the role of reparations in repairing the damages. Thus, symbolic reparations focus on the psychological harm rather than the physical. Money is simply lending greater seriousness to the apology and recognition of wrongdoing (Torpey: 81).

Reparations have an impossible challenge, for they can never make up for what has been lost: possibilities for personal and professional development, personal relationships, physical health and well-being. Reparations can, however, try to shift the losses from the terrain of the irrecoverable, to a place in the ―realm of the politically negotiated‖ in which this can at least open up the discussion between the perpetrators and the victims, while discussion may lead to both parties being able to live together and to resume political, commercial, and cultural interaction (Torpey: 82). It seems that when forcing perpetrators to accept the personal or state responsibility and the acts of violation for wrongdoing, where political reconciliation implies public acknowledgement which is important, public recognition of harm and public accountability are like institutions that change the previous, sick structure and ensure a durable design, as a sustainable reconciliation will guarantee the future repetition of previous wrongdoing, providing implicit and explicit promises (Sevy: 83). Memory is temporarily a part of history; history is not bondable within its limit.


In conclusion, the Holocaust has become a site of memory and of culture, and it is the core for forgetting. It is hard to manage and sustain the tension between its total numbing. History can be rewritten based on returning individual and collective memories, and we can test history through individual memories as memory provides continuity, and transforms society‘s individual memory to the modern collective memory. Textbooks play an important role in helping the public get ready to tackle such issues, while the museum as a site of memory can play a significant role in a group‘s self-understanding. Ethnicities, individual rights, religions and cultures are very powerful and strong influences to the mind, even though post-modernity has been erasing the ―site of memory,‖ forgetting the ―site of contestation‖ and ignoring the ―collective consciousness,‖ and removing our responsibilities from the past to the present. In fact, nobody can remove the Holocaust victims‘ memories from the collective memories of people because of their horrific experiences shared by its whole society. The ultimate goal of reparations is political reconciliation. This is the primary objective of efforts to come to terms with the past. Political reconciliation implies public acknowledgment, public recognition, and public accountability. It deals with structural and institutional framework of rights and justice. With reconciliation, society can move on ahead without always bringing up hurtful memories of the past. It should give the victimized group a fuller sense of membership in society. Reconciliation is really more about the future then it is about the past. Reparations helped the spread of human rights ideas, but it made the notion of human rights seem real and enforceable in the absence of a global police force and despite such lessons, forgetting enhances the risk that such mistreatment may be repeated in the future.


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