CGHE Webinar 333

Legislating history, (re)building the nation – no freedom for academics?

Date: Tuesday, 7 February 2023 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Location: Zoom webinar, registration required
Speaker(s):
  • Milica Popović, Central European University in Vienna
  • Hannah Jones, University of Warwick

Event Materials

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Our talk will consider the discursive and legislative curbing of academic freedom in the name of unifying national memory narratives. In a time when illiberal regimes seem on the rise, as do illiberal elements within so-called liberal democratic regimes, academic freedom finds itself at the centre of memory wars. Hegemonic national narratives, through legislation and open public attacks, stand juxtaposed to the quest for knowledge and historical research.

In Poland, memory laws are interfering with academic freedom, to the point of scholars undergoing judicial prosecution based on a suit filed by the Polish Anti-Defamation League. In Russia and Belarus, the definition of what constitutes a “rehabilitation of Nazism” was expanded, together with associated penalties. In 2018, in China a law prohibited “misrepresentation, defamation, and attempts to deny the deeds and spirits of heroes and martyrs, or to praise or beautify invasions”. Yet, beyond the “usual suspects” we can note deterioration within the Western European contexts. In the UK a controversial Higher Education (Freedom of Speech Bill) is causing much concern about whose freedom will be protected or restricted, following government ministers’ statements about defunding research into histories of empire and refusing places on museum boards to academics conducting decolonial research. In France the government has been calling for investigation of “unrepublican” scholars while in the German context, scholars like Achille Mbembe and Michael Rothberg have been attacked widely in public media. Censoring bills have increased in number across the United States and in the European Parliament, declarations and resolutions have been adopted aimed at specific interpretations of historical narratives.

How can historians and memory scholars’ pursuit for truth advance in the times of legislated history and regulated truth? How do historians and memory scholars keep their academic integrity in the face of heavy legislative threats, judiciary processes and possible imprisonments? To what extent do these frameworks influence self-censorship and impact whole disciplines?

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