Gunnþórunn Guðmundsdóttir

Gunnþórunn Guðmundsdóttir, Professor in Comparative Literature (University of Iceland)

Memory and Forgetting: Ruptures, Gaps, and National Identity

This project explores the role of memory and forgetting in the construction of national identity and understanding of the present. Trauma and sites of memory have played a key role in the collective construction of national pasts. The moral function of history is to compel us to confront what we wish to leave behind: societies must provide cultural forms and occasions for remembering the past, in order to rework it for the future. A comparative analysis of how different societies come to terms with times of crises in their history offers insights into the emergence and content of national identities, which are based in part on shared constructions of the past. In order to study Iceland in a comparative, transnational context, we find Spain to be a fruitful example, a nation which has only recently started its attempt to come to terms with its history of crises and trauma, not unlike Iceland, where societal reckoning is also taking place now, in contrast to most other Western European countries, where Vergangenheitsbewältigung (coming to terms with the past) took place in the postwar and post-1989 periods. Our research examines how these two different societies are beginning to deal with the consequences of gaps, ruptures, and silences in national memory in order to engage in societal reckoning in the wake of social crisis. The aim of the project is to demonstrate how memory and forgetting may help these societies come to terms with the past, by addressing questions of guilt and responsibility in order to achieve healing and unity, and how this process manifests itself in different textual media: testimonial, autobiographical and fictional.

Project partners: Daisy Neijmann (University College London), Sigrún Sigurðardóttir, University of Iceland, University College London, the Cultural Heritage and Re-construction of Identity after Conflict (CRIC) project at the University of Cambridge, the Group for War and Culture Studies (GWACS) at the University of Westminster.

Research Field and Areas: Memory studies, trauma studies, war studies, refugee studies, nationalism and national identity, history, comparative literature, and literary theory. This project has links to most of Edda’s research areas, but engages most directly with Area 1 (The Politics of Transition), notably Cluster 2: Societal Transitions and Political Responsibility: Morality, Justice and Identities.

Keywords: Memory studies, trauma studies, war studies, refugee studies, national identity, history, literature.

Presentations and Publications