What are "Sites of Memory" or "lieux de mémoires"?
Updated: Nov 28, 2022
A lieux de mémoire, or site of memory, is an important concept in the field of Memory Studies and was coined by the French historian, Pierre Nora, in his three-volume collection Les Lieux de Mémoire. It was published in part in English translation as Realms of Memory.
Definition of "Sites of Memory" or "lieux de mémoires"
In Nora's words, "A lieux de mémoire is any significant entity, whether material or non-material in nature, which by dint of human will or the work of time has become a symbolic element of the memorial heritage of any community." It may refer to any place, object, or concept vested with historical significance in popular collective memory, such as a monument, a museum, an event, a symbol like a flag.
The concept has evolved to signifiy the cultural landmarks, places, practices and expressions stemming from a shared past, whether material (monuments) or intangible (language and traditions).
In my art practice, I think of a lieux de mémoire as a significant historical site, where an important event or series of events have happened, and is invested with dense cultural memories in the collective consciousness of the community where the sites are located. This memory is often contested and not uniform, but does have a hegemonic, mainstream or official narrative.
Examples of "Sites of Memory" or "lieux-de-mémoires"
For example, the Auschwitz concentration camp is a significant site of memory or lieux de mémoire and lives in the collective memories of Jewish, Germany, Polish, and several other communities.