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On Commemoration

Global Reflections upon Remembering War

Edited By Catherine Gilbert, Kate McLoughlin and Niall Munro

How, in the twenty-first century, can we do commemoration better? In particular, how can commemoration contribute to post-war reconciliation and reconstruction? In this book, a global roster of distinguished writers, artists, musicians, religious leaders, military veterans and scholars debate these questions and ponder the future of commemoration. They include the world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony Horwitz, the award-winning novelists Aminatta Forna and Rachel Seiffert, and the human rights lawyer and Gifford Baillie Prize-winner Philippe Sands. Polemics and reflections together with poetry and creative prose movingly illuminate a subject that speaks to our common humanity.

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Commemoration and the Limits of Empathy (Silke Arnold-de Simine with Catherine Gilbert)


silke arnold-de simine with catherine gilbert

In this conversation, Silke Arnold-de Simine, a scholar of cultural memory, and Catherine Gilbert discuss how museums present historical suffering and the problems involved in encouraging people to empathise with those represented in exhibitions and commemorative projects.

catherine gilbert: One topic that we encounter a lot when thinking about commemoration is empathy. In your research into commemorative sites such as museums and memorials, how important is empathy as a response?

silke arnold-de simine: It is quite a big question! First of all, I think it is important to say that you will find the term empathy in a lot of museum material. Museums often talk about how they really want to enhance empathy in museum visitors and memorial visitors. In considering this, I was a bit puzzled by the fact that empathy was necessarily seen as a good thing and a goal in itself, I suppose. It was taken for granted that empathy would enhance understanding, would enhance being open to other people and that it would further pro-social behaviour. I felt this needed to be interrogated a little bit. While museum scholars such as Carol Johnson or Mary Warnock see empathy as fundamental for engaging with histories of exploitation, violation and injustice, scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds caution against such optimism: I am thinking here of work by Megan Boler (The Risks of Empathy), Paul Bloom (Against Empathy), or essays in the collection Empathy and Its Limits,...

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