Memory, Collective Consciousness and Authoritarian Dictatorships International Conference

The Regimes Museum / The Wende Museum

Southern California, USA (2020)

19 SEP 2020


CONFERENCE PAPER: "Specters of a Dictatorship"



The phenomenon of dictatorship is one that has impacted and continues to profoundly impact the human domain in many ways. For one, political authoritarian and, by extension, totalitarian regimes create enviornments for systemic cruelty, intolerance, and violence that lead to countless victims and a memory of trauma that affects even the younger generations who did not experience dictatorship first hand. Ultimately, how does a society define authoritarianism and totalitarianism politically, socially, or culturally? What role does nationalism play in the historical memory of a dictatorship?

When referring to preserving the Holocaust in history, the late Elie Wiesel once asked the famous question, “How does one remember?” Expanding on Wiesel’s question, how does one, an individual, a group, or a society as a whole, remember authoritarian and totalitarian dictatorships? What role does memory play in shaping contemporary historical discourse? How is this historical memory transmitted from one generation to the next? How can words, images, or historical facts express authoritarianism or totalitarianism? Can literary representations and film make a difference in regards to how societies come to terms with tyrannical regimes? How does historical cultural socialization influence collective consciousness? Is it possible for forms of historical cultural socialization to help prevent totalitarian regimes from coming into existence in the present and future? What does it even mean to ask such fundamental questions about dictatorships when democracies engage them, provide support for, or ignore human rights abuses? Many attempts have been made to comprehend the trauma caused by authoritarian and totalitarian political regimes and representations across the globe have been produced in an effort to make sense of these human tragedies. Countless books, articles, films, documentaries, museums, memorials, and historical debates have been created to process, come to terms with, or explain human tragedies caused by dictatorships. However, despite all of these contributions, the phenomenon of dictatorship persists.

The purpose of this conference is to help find answers to some of these fundamental questions. More specifically, the aim is to analyze, explore, and understand how individuals and societies internalize, come to terms with, and preserve the memories of totalitarianism in the twentieth century from an interdisciplinary approach. By combining the expertise and knowledge of professional researchers and graduate students across multiple disciplines, it is our hope to shed new light on how individuals and societies choose to remember dictatorship in their countries and how neighboring societies have interacted with authoritarian or totalitarian dictatorships.