Locating memory within history: Baltic lives in their context


The writing of Baltic biographies has been shaped by tensions common to much work in the field of life histories. These tensions relate to the difficulties of reconciling the voice and life experience of informants with the scholarly requirements governing the production of historical data. They are evident from the beginnings of life history research in the nineteenth century and later in the work of the Chicago School of Sociologists. The conflicting demands of voice and history have shaped our writing of Baltic biographies. I will start by considering the Baltic context and then return to consider the commonalities shared with the early work on life histories. ‘History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake’. James Joyce (1922) puts these now famous words into the mouth of Stephen Daedalus. The same words could at different times and with different meanings be uttered by the Baltic peoples. History in the Baltic states is characterized by passionate and intensely personal identifications, of a kind less known in much of Western Europe. We find this both in popular memory (Skultans 1998) and in professional history writing. There is a strong tradition of nationalist history writing that argues that you need to be Latvian to understand the Latvian historical experience (Švābe 1991). This school emerged in opposition to the German Baltic school of historiography, but is clearly linked to the nation-building agenda of the first republic (1918-1940). This tradition has been revived in the postindependence period since 1991 and belongs to what the German historian EvaClarita Onken describes as Geschichtspolitik: the struggle over different versions of the past in order to forge particular kinds of identity (Onken 2003: 116). Among English speaking scholars this struggle is, following Hacking (1995: 214), referred to as memory politics.

Atsauce: Skultans, V. (2012) Locating memory within history: Baltic lives in their context. Baltic Biographies at Historical Crossroads (pp. 23-36). London; New York: Routledge.