78904 - Semiotics of Memory (1) (LM)

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Quality education Gender equality Reduced inequalities Peace, justice and strong institutions

Academic Year 2021/2022

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course the student will have achieved the necessary tools to critically elaborate the main themes and aspects relating to cultural memory's problems in a semiotic perspective.

Course contents

Memory studies are a relatively recent academic field, that aims at an interdisciplinary investigation on collective forms of remembering and processes of construction, transmission and communication of the past in contemporary societies and in contexts characterised by an intrinsic “semiotic complexity”. At the same time, memory studies are often engaged in an incessant dialogue with other disciplines that have theorized on memory (philosophy, sociology, psychology, semiotics, cognitive sciences, anthropology and so forth).

The course will present and critically discuss the current debate in the field of memory studies, framing the main topics and issues in a semiotic perspective. Moving from a critical discussion of the notion itself of collective memory, the course will pinpoint the diverse “discursive arenas” (media discourse, historical discourse, juridical discourse, political discourse, public discourse…) that shape shared – as well as individual – memories (and, consequently, collective and individual identities).

A part of the course will focus specifically on the processes of construction and transmission of Cultural Heritage, especially with regard to its semiotic, political and conflictual nature. A particular attention will be given to the notions of dissonant and difficult heritage.


Indicative program:

First part

(first two weeks): Introduction to memory studies and semiotics of memory: approaches and common perspectives. Key thinkers and concepts in memory studies (Halbwachs, Jan & Aleida Assmann, Pierre Nora, Paul Ricoeur...). Three semiotic models for the study of cultural memory: Semiosphere (Jurij Lotman), Encyclopedia (Umberto Eco) and Narrativity (Algirdas Greimas).

Second part

(third week) Collective memory and Cultural Heritage: dissonant heritage (Tunbridge and Ashworth), Difficult Heritage (S. Macdonald), idelogical uses of heritage (L. Smith).

(fourth week) Politics of memory and spatial narratives: monuments, museums, cities (semiotic approaches). Conflicts of memory and contested heritage as semiotic battlefield. Cultural memory and processes of decolonization

(fifth week): Memory studies in front of contemporary global crises: global and transcultural memories

(last day of fifth week will be devoted to students' presentation of 'pre-papers')


Mandatory reading materials (Syllabus):

Key thinkers and notions (first part):

  • Erll, A., Memory in Culture, New York: Palgrave, 2011 (Chapter 1, 2 and 3).
  • Halbwachs, M. (1950) “Space and the Collective Memory”. In: Halbwachs, M, The Collective Memory, (Chapter 4).
  • Hobsbawm, E. (2012). “Introduction: Inventing Traditions”. In E. Hobsbawm & T. Ranger (Eds.), The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1-14
  • Nora, P. (1989) “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire”. In: Representations, N.26, Special Issue: Memory and Counter-Memory (Spring 1989), pp. 7-24.
  • Assmann, A. (2008) “Canon and Archive”. In: Erll, A.; Nünning, A. (eds.), A companion to cultural memory studies, Berlin, New York: De Gruyter.
  • Assmann, J. (2008) “Communicative and Cultural Memory”. In: Erll, A.; Nünning, A. (eds.), A companion to cultural memory studies, Berlin, New York: De Gruyter.
  • Lotman, J, Uspensky, B., & Mihaychuk, G. (1978). “On the Semiotic Mechanism of Culture”. In: New Literary History, 9(2), 211-232.
  • Eco, U. (1988) “An Ars Oblivionalis? Forget it!”, in PMLA, Vol.103, n.3, 254-261.
  • Eco, U. (2013) “Against the Loss of Memory”, New York: United Nations [available online]

Dissonant/Difficult Heritage:

  • Macdonald, S. (2009) Difficult Heritage. Negoziating the Nazi Past in Nuremberg and Beyond. Routledge (Introduction, pp. 1-24)
  • Tunbridge, J.E.; Ashworth, G.J. (1996) Dissonant heritage: the management of the past as a resource in conflict. J. Wiley, 1996 (Chapter 1-2)
  • Smith, L. (2006) Uses of Heritage. Routledge. [chapters 1 & 2]
  • Violi, P. (2017) Landscapes of Memory. Trauma, Space, History, Peter Lang [Chapter 1 and 2]

Global/Transcultural Memories:

  • Erll A (2011) “Travelling memory”. In: Crownshaw R (ed.) Transcultural Memory. Parallax (Special issue) 17(4), pp. 4–18.

Non attending students’ readings (also optional readings for anyone want to deepen some topics).
Non-attending students must choose 3 articles from the list, one from each group:

Key thinkers and notions (first part):

  • Tamm, M. (2019) “Introduction: Juri Lotman’s Semiotic Theory of History and Cultural Memory”
  • Lorusso, A.M. (2015) Cultural Semiotics. For a Cultural Perspective in Semiotics. Palgrave Macmillan [chapters 3 & 4]
  • Gruia Badescu; Britt Baillie, Francesco Mazzucchelli, “Introduction: Heritage in ‘conflict-time’ and nation-building in the former Yugoslavia”. In: Transforming Heritage in the Former Yugoslavia - Synchronous Pasts. In: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021, pp. 1 – 25

Dissonant/Difficult Heritage:

  • Mazzucchelli, F. “Borders of memory. Competing heritages and fractured memoryscapes in Bosnia and Herzegovina”, in: Transforming Heritage in the Former Yugoslavia - Synchronous Pasts, London-New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2021, pp. 102 - 120

  • Bellentani, F. and M. Panico (2016) “The meanings of monuments and memorials: toward a semiotic approach.” (2016).

  • Francesco Mazzucchelli, From the “Era of the Witness” to an Era of Traces. Memorialisation as a Process of Iconisation?, in: Mapping the ‘Forensic Turn’. Engagements with Materialities of Mass Death in Holocaust Studies and Beyond, Vienna, New Academic Press, 2017, pp. 169 - 191

Transnational/Global memories:

  • Assmann A and Conrad S (eds) (2010) Memory in a Global Age: Discourses, Practices and Trajectories. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan [Introduction]

  • Rothberg M (2009) Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. [CHAPTER 1]

Other texts will be suggested by the teacher along the course

Teaching methods

The course is articulated in frontal lessons with presentations and other materials that will be made available to students through IOL.

Collective discussions, analysis and tests are essential part of the course. Students are expected to participate actively to class discussions and attendance is highly recommended.

Assessment methods

The exam will consist of a paper which will be discussed with the teacher in an oral exam, in which the student will be asked to defend the research hypothesis and the analysis carried out in the paper. The exam is aimed at assessing the understanding of the readings of the course and the capacity to apply this knowledge in the analysis of cultural memory issues.

Papers are expected to be between 4000 and 6000 words and have to be handed to the teacher at least 15 days before the date of the oral discussion. Final papers may be based on collective work in a group, and in this case their total length must be proportional to the number of people participating in the group.

Students who will not attend the course will have to present a paper of the same length on a topic previously agreed upon with the professor, and an oral examination on three of the papers from the reading list.

Discussions and presentations with students will be scheduled during the course for attending students.

Teaching tools

Multimedial equipment of the class

Microsoft Teams and other digital software for online lessons

Office hours

See the website of Francesco Mazzucchelli