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“Memory Politics and Reconciliation in the Wake of Ethnic Conflict: A Northern Irish Example"


This paper is concerned with the politics of memory and their consequences – how memory in its tangible and intangible forms is understood, performed, and acted upon in the popular imagination, and how it influences contemporary situations and inter-community relationships. Specifically, the paper is concerned with exploring the roles that the politics of memory can play not just in promoting continued community division in the aftermath of ethnic or religious conflicts in regions with complex and layered histories, but also the inverse – in promoting reconciliation. The paper takes as its primary example the multiple co-existing yet divergent accumulating narratives about the past that contributed to the eruption and later to the sustenance of The Troubles in Northern Ireland. After a brief historical review, it examines the experiences of one contemporary case that has been held up locally and internationally as exemplary in redirecting memory politics in support of reconciliation between divided communities – that of Derry~Londonderry, Northern Ireland’s second city and the site of the first violent confrontations of the Troubles. Bearing in mind the concept of “archival reconciliation” proposed by Sue McKemmish et al. with regard to the construction of Australian Indigeneity, past, present and future, and Verne Harris’ recent discussion of “healing” with reference to the experiences of the Nelson Mandela Foundation with human rights archives and memory work in post-apartheid South Africa, the paper concludes with some reflections on the responsibilities of memory institutions, and especially of archives, to address the politics of memory, even when those politics can traverse centuries of events; and actively contribute to reconciliation and peacebuilding in the wake of physical conflict, combatting, to use Harris' words, the weariness, stress and “stuckness” that can replace energy and hope during lengthy transition and recovery processes.

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