Modules for History Lessons
Congo in Flemish/Belgian and Postcolonial Belgian/Congolese Collective Memory
Introduction to the Module
Past and history are not the exclusive property of historians. Many people, individuals, groups, authorities, and societies deal with the past in very active ways. Thus, history plays an important role in society at large. Governments, for example, try to create a very specific representation of the past, try to build a cultural collective memory, which can serve present-day goals (such as cohesion, collective identity building). This is done through the foundation of memorials, monuments, statues, street names, museums, legal holidays etc. In forming a collective memory, the past is used in a very selective way. Only those elements that can serve the present-day goals are withheld. In this way, the past is represented in an often over-simplified way. Collective memory, however, is strong, and preserves past representations for a long time, even though they have already been shattered by academic historiography. This becomes very clear regarding Belgian-Congolese colonial cultural and communicative collective memory in Belgium. Whereas international academic historiography often presents Belgium and the Belgian colonial rule as the worst pupil of the colonial/imperialist “classroom”, the Belgian collective memory regarding the colonial past, as it appears in street names, monuments and statutes, is characterized by glory, triumphalism, nostalgia, and a total lack of criticism towards the Belgian colonial rule. This opposite is true for many neighboring countries, wherein, in society at large, the colonial past is approached in a much more critical way, and considered not only from a white, colonizer...
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