Memory struggle, national identity, and ways to global solidarity for memory

Start date: January 2023 (project period 1 year)

Principal Investigator: Florian Pölking; Dong-hun Kim

Funding institutions: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG); National Research Foundation (NRF) Republic of Korea



This explorative project serves to develop potential and initiate cooperation between Dr. Florian Pölking and Dr. Dong Hun Kim with the aim of conceiving a joint research project, expanding mutual networks, and ultimately turning it into a joint package proposal.

The cooperation is based on two individual case studies anchored in the interdisciplinary field of memory studies. Dr. Pölking’s project examines the memory of the factional struggles in the course of Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule in 1945 until the end of the Korean War in 1953, focusing on the so-called Jeju Uprisings and Massacres of 3 April and related events. These armed protests against the establishment of a separate government in South Korea were labeled as communist rebellions by those in power and brutally put down. The memory of these massacres of their own population was constructed by the authoritarian governments of South Korea during the Cold War in such a way that it served their own and the state’s legitimisation. A comprehensive reappraisal was thus only possible and also initiated after the democratic change in 1987. Since then, the events have been examined in academic research as well as in social and political debate. At the same time, official memory is changing through state recognition and official commemoration ceremonies, and a corresponding change in the collective memory of this period can be seen.

The envisaged research project will investigate how these changes manifest themselves in the form of concrete sites of memory such as memorials but also abstract sites of memory such as speeches and political programmes and how they interact with them. Based on a role-theoretical approach, the aim is to trace how these changes in collective memory relate to national identity, whether and if so what changes occur in the foundations and exercise of Korean domestic and foreign policy, and how they mutually influence each other. The formation of West German politics and its anchoring in the collective memory of the Shoah, which is the subject of Dr. Kim’s research, serves as an initial example. He will contribute as a scholar in the field of German Studies.

Dr. Kim has been working on the topic of “Shoah and Narration in the Narratives of Shoah Survivors” since 2019 and will focus on the narrativity of memories of the Shoah. Furthermore, the partners aim to expand their joint research to a global perspective of collective memory. To this end, two research trips are to be carried out in each case, which will serve to examine relevant sites of memory, participate in commemorative events, visit archives and museums, promote mutual networking and project development, and expand the joint network in research, politics, and society.