C²DH – the global platform for history in the digital age
2020 Annual Report
The Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (C²DH), the third research centre at the University of Luxembourg, is committed to high-quality research, analysis and public dissemination in the field of contemporary history. The Centre has a particular focus on digital methods and tools and serves as a catalyst for innovative and creative scholarship as well as new forms of public dissemination and societal engagement.
MESSAGE FROM THE DIRECTOR —
The events of 2020 will probably be remembered as one of the biggest crises in human history since World War II. For us historians, witnessing “history in the making” triggered ambivalent feelings. As experts of the past, we know about the impact of crises on societies and how to study the multiple traces they leave in archives and people’s memories. Unsurprisingly, the first instinct of historians is to “historicise” the current situation and to look for other similarly disruptive moments in the past. Yet we know how difficult it is to learn the lessons of the past. History never repeats itself – and far too often, the past is misused and instrumentalised for ideological or political reasons. The constant challenge of contemporary history is to look at the recent past from a critical perspective based on the scholarly methods of the discipline, while simultaneously acting in an environment shaped by the communicative construction of memories of that same past. The tension between history and memory has been central to theoretical debates about the “temporal regime” of our times, with some claiming that the “memory boom” of the late 20th century has produced a culture of “presentism” that is unable to take a critical and more distanced view of the past.
The digital nature of our contemporary lives undoubtedly has a deep impact on both how we witness the present and how we experience the past – whether through remembrance, historical research or mediated representation. The current pandemic is probably the first to be documented and experienced on a large scale via digital media and online communication platforms. Capturing and documenting this “history in the making” in the fluid and highly tangible world of Web-based communication platforms has therefore become a major challenge for digital historians all over the world. Many “memory bank” initiatives have been launched by public historians, media companies and heritage institutions to collect “COVID memories” and build digital archives for future historical research. Inspired by earlier memory bank projects such as the Hurricane Katrina Digital Memory Bank and the September 11 Digital Archive, the C²DH started the https://covidmemory.lu project as part of the national taskforce initiative. It more or less emerged as a spontaneous initiative and quickly turned into a real team effort involving project managers, curators, designers and developers. The initiative received funding under the FNR’s COVID-19 call and was joined by two other projects related to the pandemic: “Yes we care”, an oral history project with people from the healthcare sector aimed at producing a longitudinal dataset of audiovisual testimonies – a kind of personal diary of healthcare professionals working in Luxembourg –, and the project “History and collective memory in the making on social media”, focusing on the collection and analysis of Tweets on the pandemic in the Greater Region.Image
Despite such creative and innovative reactions to the crisis, social distancing and remote working conditions have had a major impact on our social relationships and in some cases have even affected our mental health. Keeping the C²DH spirit alive under such conditions has not been easy, but we have tried our best to remain connected, united and driven by our motivation to engage in interesting and relevant work. I would like to express my special thanks to all members of the team who have invested a lot of time and energy in producing news videos, organising online events, sharing news on the various Slack channels and helping out newcomers and visiting scholars who have had to settle in Luxembourg in very difficult conditions. The closure of archives and libraries has been a source of considerable stress and problems for our PhD students and post-docs who have to finish their research projects in a given timeframe. We are doing our best to support our students and researchers in all their tasks, and we would like to thank the Rectorate/University administration and the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR) for their flexibility in adapting contracts and deadlines to the circumstances. Now that the national vaccination programme is gathering pace, we have real hope that 2021 will not only be remembered as the year of the “third wave” but also as the year when vaccines helped to tame the pandemic.
Notwithstanding the complexities of the public health situation, 2020 also represented an opportunity for the C²DH, which since it was founded has embraced digital techniques as part of its research strategy. The pandemic served as a catalyst, and the C²DH was more than ever able to lay firm foundations for the digital future of history research. The C²DH and the De Gruyter publishing group launched the Journal of Digital History (JDH), intended to serve as a forum for critical debate and discussion in the field of digital history, and the C²DH set up a teaching platform to show history lecturers and students how to apply source criticism to digitised and born-digital historical sources. Two digital exhibitions about the history of East Belgium and the history of the Luxembourg postal service were also opened to the public in 2020.
On a personal note, let me share the news that at its meeting on 19 March 2021 the University’s Board of Governors decided to renew my term as Director of the C²DH for another period of five years. I am grateful for the trust that the Rectorate and the Board are placing in me and I look forward to helping put our long-term strategy into practice as we strive to make the C²DH the global platform for history in the digital age.
Thank you very much and all the best,
Enjoy the read
Prof. Dr Andreas Fickers
Director of the C²DH