Lecture "Do Epigenetics Matter? A Historian’s Issues with Memories, Narratives and Intergenerational Transfer"

Friday, 15. June 2018 - 9:30
Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Lentzeallee 94, 14195 Berlin, Big Conference Room
Center for the History of Emotions
Karola Rockmann | rockmann@mpib-berlin.mpg.de

The Center for the History of Emotions at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, led by Prof. Ute Frevert, cordially invites all interested to attend following lecture:

Dorothee Wierling, Forschungsstelle für Zeitgeschichte / Universität Hamburg

Do Epigenetics Matter? A Historian’s Issues with Memories, Narratives and Intergenerational Transfer

Do claims of the life sciences, regarding intergenerational transfer through DNA imprints represent a challenge for the social sciences, such as historiography? And if so, how do they fit into the practice of historical scholarship, both in regard to research and its presentation in writing?

These questions will be the starting point of her lecture. Dorothee Wierling will begin by discussing the use historians make of the three concepts in question: memory, narrative and intergenerational transfer. She will argue that ‘memory’ in the sense of actual memories of real people are not accessible to historians other than as narratives; and that such narratives—in whatever form—only represent a segment of existing memories—chosen according to relevance in the moment of producing the narrative. Narratives are therefore linked to personal and social contexts, in which they make sense. And here, notions of intergenerational transfer become relevant, especially in the families of Holocaust survivors and of Germans who were responsible adults in the 1930s and 1940s. Their children and now also grandchildren have emerged publicly to discuss matters of ‘second’ and ‘third’ generations.

The concept of trauma features prominently in such narratives, and from there the link goes to ‘epigenetics’. Making use of the psychoanalytical, neuroscientific research she will ask, if the results so far are compatible with the social history and history of experience she have practiced and moreover, if they can even support and strengthen historians’ findings.

Dorothee Wierling, Professor at the University of Hamburg and Deputy Director of the Research Center for Contemporary History in Hamburg (retired), is a social historian of everyday life and experience (Alltags- und Erfahrungsgeschichte) and a practitioner of Oral History. Her recent publications include: Eine Familie im Krieg: Leben, Sterben und Schreiben 1914–1918 (2013); Kaffeewelten: Historische Perspektiven auf eine globale Ware im 20. Jahrhundert (2015); Inside World War One? The First World War and its Witnesses (2018).

The lecture is part of the conference "Epigenetics: Innovation of Memory? Life Science Paradigms as Challenge and Opportunity for Historians", which takes place from June 13th to June 15th at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. See also the public lecture "In Place of Healing: The Dangers of Therapeutic Models of Remembrance" by Yay M. Winter.