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Collective Memory as a Basis for Identification with Europe. Interpretations of the Past between Globalization, Europeanization, Renationalization and Hybridization

Sub-project of the DFG Research Unit "Horizontal Europeanization"

Overview of all projects in the Research Unit

Project coordinators

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Gerhards

Project researchers

Dr. Lars Breuer

Anna Delius (née Leidinger), M.A.


Amid increased political integration and in the wake of the ongoing crises in the last five years, the debate about the premises of European identity formation have taken centre stage. Commonly shared interpretations of the past are frequently proclaimed as an important precondition for the formation of collective identities as can be observed in the process of constructing national identities in Europe throughout the 19th and 20th century.

The increasing European and global connectedness of nation states provoked a debate about the creation of a “European public sphere”. This raises the question if and how nationally shaped interpretations of the past have become permeable to multiple and transnational memories. We approach this general question by conducting a double comparison: on the one hand we juxtapose the memories of citizens with those of the official and institutionalized interpretations of the past. On the other hand we compare four European countries, namely Germany, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom. The research project specifically aims at answering the following questions:

  1. To what extent can references to extra-national events be traced in the institutionalized national interpretations of the past and in what way do citizens’ and official memories match?
  2. How and to what extent do the shared memories of European citizens contain national, transnational and global references? What do they look like?
  3. Are there shared “modes” of memory, e.g. within debates about ways of dealing with the past?
  4. Which factors at the macro- or individual level could help explain the permeability of a national collective memory and the creation of a European/transnational memory?

The empirical base of this project is twofold. On the one hand, we conduct focus group interviews in Germany, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom. On the other, we reconstruct the official interpretations of the past using secondary literature and selected primary sources.


2012 – 2015


This project is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) as part of the Research Unit "Horizontal Europeanization".

Results / Publications

The results of the project have been published in articles, but mainly in a book forthcoming in July 2016:

Jürgen Gerhards, Lars Breuer & Anna Delius (2016): Kollektive Erinnerungen europäischer Bürger im Kontext von Transnationalisierungsprozessen. Deutschland, Großbritannien, Polen und Spanien im Vergleich. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.

Discussion guide for Focus Groups

The complete discussion guides used for the focus groups in the four countries can be downloaded here (PDF):

Germany | Poland | Spain | United Kingdom