The dynamics of cultural remembrance: an intermedial perspective

Chiara de Cesari (PhD)


project: Cultural Memory Beyond the Nation-State: Heritage as Medium and Technology

Chiara De Cesari is a postdoc at the Research Institute for History and Culture at Utrecht University. She received her BA and MA in Archeology and Near Eastern Studies from the Freie Universität Berlin. Following several years of work in archaeology and heritage conservation, she moved to Stanford University and shifted her interest from the study of the past to the politics of the past in the present. At Stanford, Chiara completed a Ph.D. in Cultural and Social Anthropology. Her dissertation, entitled Cultural Heritage Beyond the “State”: Palestinian Heritage Between Nationalism and Transnationalism, explores how heritage is constituted by and constitutive of the political in the lacerated space of Palestine/Israel. In her ethnographic research, Chiara pays particular attention to how forms of transnational governmentality inform heritage practices, and focuses on the kinds of spaces and modalities of citizenship that patrimonialization processes help engender. Areas of interest include: heritage and memory, material culture, Israeli-Palestinian conflict, anthropology and archaeology of the Middle East, transnationalism, theories of space and architecture, theories of state/civil society, art as knowledge practice, postcolonialism, ‘Europe’, ethnographic film.

Cultural Memory Beyond the Nation-State: Heritage as Medium and Technology

General focus is on the multiple ways in which the materiality of the past is woven into political processes, and in particular, current transformations of the nation-state. I am now working on three article length pieces. The first discusses the case of the southern West Bank city of Hebron, an important heritage site that is the focus of violent contestations. The article investigates the current production of urban space in Hebron as the clash of two radically different spatial projects: a military project of dismemberment and a heritage project of revitalization (re-membering) targeting the restoration of both the urban and social fabric of the city. My goal with this piece is to develop a notion of material heritage as spatial technology through which space, as a network of (asymmetric) relationships between people, and between people and things, is produced.

The second piece analyzes the making of heritage in contemporary Palestine. My ethnographic approach highlights the ambivalence and tensions between the local, the national and the global within Palestinian heritage practices, produced within a network of mainly local non-governmental organizations entertaining multiple transnational connections. I examine the relationship between institutional frameworks (e.g., governmental vs. civil society organizations) and types of heritage and memory production as well the relationship between nationalism and transnationalism in patrimonialization processes. Through the Palestinian case study, my goal is also to shed light on current global transformations of the heritage field, that is, the growing outsourcing of functions previously carried out by the state to sub-, trans-, and supra-national entities.

Finally, the third piece looks at the question of heritage in the context of contested processes of construction of Europe and a future European identity. I focus on the silencing of Arab Islamic heritage. While the multicultural motto of “unity in diversity” is paramount in debates and statements about the constitution of the European Union, highly selective and homogeneous notions of what constitutes its proper heritage are still dominant in the public imagination. Moreover, the foregrounding of Europe’s classical and Christian roots is a key discursive strategy articulated by political forces opposing both the enlargement of the Union to predominantly Muslim countries such as Turkey, as well as the integration of immigrants as national citizens. My objective is to explore a significant though neglected terrain, that is, the production of heritage, through which hegemonic, exclusionary identities as well as political communities are constituted.