Rethinking Cosmopolitan Memory in Post-Colonial Contexts

An international and interdisciplinary Roundtable


The increasing globalization of collective memories has been at the centre of debates within the interdisciplinary field of Memory Studies for more than two decades. In the early 2000s, Daniel Levy’s and Natan Sznaider’s book The Holocaust and Memory in the Global Age (2001) energized discussions that led to the transcultural and transnational turn in Memory Studies. Their concept of “cosmopolitan memory” - based on the insight that memories of the Holocaust were used as a “template” for addressing political violence and genocide worldwide and had brought about new visions global justice - was widely discussed both as a conceptual tool and as a normative idea.

Over the past decade, concerns have been raised about the particular dynamics of cosmopolitan memory in postcolonial contexts. Claims for recognition and reparation of colonial injustices have caught increasing international attention. Political debates about the decolonization of international legal frameworks followed. Such more recent postcolonial and decolonial perspectives invite us to critically rethink the idea of cosmopolitan memory.

The public debates and political violence of the 2020s (the Mmembe-scandal, Documenta 15, the “historians’ debate 2.0,” the war in Ukraine, the Israel-Palestine conflict) brought home the need to rethink conceptualizations of cosmopolitan memory even more strongly. (How) can we adapt them to particular mnemonic contexts? How can we better pay attention to marginalized regions and debates? What happens when memories produced and curated in Europe travel to different regions in the Global South? How do descendants of colonial injustices and activists relate to “other people’s memories,” and how do they seek to mobilize cosmopolitan memory in their struggles for recognition and reparation? For example, what role do cosmopolitan dynamics currently play in debates about the colonial genocide of the OvaHerero and Nama in Namibia and Germany's responsibility? Or in remembering imperialism and India's 1947 partition among South Asian communities in the UK? Or how are memories of the Holocaust and Japanese occupation entangled in the Philippines?


Our roundtable opens up a space to discuss and develop new perspectives on such entangled and sometimes contradictory contemporary processes of mnemonic transformation. It brings together international scholars and activists engaging with cosmopolitan memory, post-colonialism and decolonization from a variety of perspectives. 


Our guests are:

  • Emily Keightley (Professor of Media and Memory Studies, Loughborough University)
  • Daniel Levy (Professor of Sociology, Stony Brook University)
  • Jocelyn S. Martin (Associate Professor, Faculté des Humanités, Université Catholique de l'Ouest)
  • Jephta U. Nguherimo (Writer and Reparation Activist, OvaHereroPeople's Memorial & Reconstruction Foundation, Washington/Windhoek)

The roundtable will be moderated by

  • Kaya de Wolff (Ph.D. in Media and Communication Studies, with a thesis on memories of the OvaHerero and Nama genocide in the German press; Researcher in the TraCe Network)
  • Astrid Erll (Professor of English at Goethe University, founder of the Frankfurt Memory Studies Platform, and co-speaker of TraCe)

When? Thursday, May 2, 2024 | 6 pm (18:00 s.t.)

Where? Goethe University Frankfurt, Campus Westend | Casino building, room 1.811


Abstracts and Bio's


  • Daniel Levy (Stony Brook University)Twenty Years After: The Vicissitudes of Cosmopolitan Memories
    • This presentation will address the fluid and contested nature of cosmopolitan memories, shedding light on the different trajectories it has taken during the last two decades. Its role in shaping national and transnational identities, potential solidarities and how it has been confronting the legacies of the past in a rapidly changing global world. The original conceptualization of Cosmopolitan Memory was developed during the late 1990s. It was a time that saw the rise of International Jurisdiction, Humanitarian Interventions, and the consolidation of the Human Rights Regime. For a decade, we observed the transformative potential of cosmopolitan memories in domestic and international relations. Focusing on intercultural dialogue, reconciliation, and solidarity across diverse communities, it was primarily a European phenomenon where the cosmopolitanization of Holocaust Memory assumed a source of unification. This period did not last long, and it became soon apparent that Holocaust Memory was as much an official source for shared value, as it was a trigger for European divides (most notably between West and East). If that divide was driven by different experiences and memories, more recent (postcolonial and neo-national) reactions (interrogating the privileging of certain voices within dominant memory discourses and rejecting cosmopolitanism, respectively) have amplified mnemonic conflicts.
    • Daniel Levy is a Professor of Sociology at Stony Brook University, specializing in political and comparative-historical sociology. His research focuses on issues of globalization and their intersections with collective memory and questions of solidarity. Among his works on memory is Erinnerung im globalen Zeitalter: Der Holocaust (2001), co-authored with Natan Sznaider. This book was later revised and published in English as The Holocaust and Memory in the Global Age (Temple University Press, 2006). Levy and Sznaider further explored the concept the ‘cosmopolitanization of memory’ in their monograph Human Rights and Memory (Penn State University Press, 2010). He served as a co-editor for The Collective Memory Reader, alongside Jeffrey Olick and Vered Vinitzky-Seroussi (Oxford University Press, 2011). His most recent memory publication is “Civilizational mnemonics and the longue durée: The Bulgarian case” (2022 Memory Studies 21(1): 1-27 co-authored with Dafina Nedelcheva).
  • Emily KeightleyCultural Memories of India's 1947 Partition among South Asian Communities in the UK
    • My contribution to the roundtable is based on my 7-year research project Migrant Memory and the Postcolonial Imagination (The Leverhulme Trust 2017-2024) which has explored the theoretical and analytical shifts necessary to research cosmopolitan memories in the wake of Empire. This research project makes a transformative intervention in the field of Memory Studies and the sociological analysis of migrant communities by exploring cultural memories of India's 1947 Partition in the UK, which continue to shape contemporary British South Asian community relations. The project has explored how community identities, including a sense of Britishness, are produced and articulated by South Asian people in the UK through cultural practices and social processes of remembering. It asks what memories of Partition, decolonisation and migration persist for people of South Asian Heritage in the UK, and how do these memories feature in everyday life? In doing so, it considers how these memories communicated over time and across space, (within and between the UK and South Asia), and the role of personal and mass media and cultural forms. In the roundtable I will discuss the ways in which the project has utilized the idea of critical cosmopolitanism to understand the ways in which the competing contexts, inheritances, and modes of transmission of postcolonial experience are navigated in remembering in diasporic communities. I will also elaborate on the way in which the creative arts-based empirical approaches used in the project have allowed us to chart some of the major epistemological challenges of doing postcolonial memory studies research, and have led to the development of a set of methodological principles in response to these conceptual and empirical challenges.
    • Emily Keightley is Professor of Media and Memory Studies and Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor for Vibrant and Inclusive Communities at Loughborough University, UK. She has a PhD in Communication and Media and her research focuses on the representation and mobilisation of the past through communicative practices and forms. She has written three monographs exploring the relationship between memory and imagination in vernacular remembering practices with her long-term collaborator Professor Michael Pickering. More recently her research has focused on postcolonial memory and memories of empire and decolonisation in South Asian diasporic communities in the UK and has been funded by the Leverhulme Trust. She has collaborated with colleagues from disaster studies to explore the role of memory in disasters and disaster recovery, and with colleagues from social movement studies on the volume Social Movements, Cultural Memory and Digital Media. Alongside her work on memory she has published widely on cultures of time and temporality in late modernity. She is Editor of the international journal Media, Culture & Society, sits on the editorial board of Memory, Mind & Media, and is Vice Chair of the charity 'Equality Action'.
  • Jocelyn "Joyce" Martin: The Manilaners or the Shoah embedded in colonisation
    • After learning about Kristallnacht, Filipinos, then under American occupation (1898-1946), empathised with the Jews and staged an indignation rally in November 1938 within the premises of the Ateneo de Manila University. Then followed the systematic, President-Quezon-led rescue and socio-cultural integration of over 2000 Jews in Manila. Given livelihoods, homes, schools, and even a temple, these exiles eventually called themselves “Manilaners” (Bewohner aus Manila). At least two memoirs convey the lives of these new refugees: Frank Ephraim’s Escape to Manila and Juergen Goldhagen’s Manila Memories. However, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invasion ofUS-occupied Manilacurtailed the rescue efforts. By a twist of fate, the new conquerors regarded the Germans as allies. Consequently, the Americans and Filipinos were interred – but not the Germans, who remained free. While some German Jews used their new freedom to help prisoners, others, unfortunately, misused their rising socio-economic status.There were even instances of orientalism and racial discrimination against Filipinos. As such, some Manilaners came to be perceived, not as Jews and refugees, but as Whites – like the colonisers.  Thus, this Filipino-European Jewish connection within the backdrop of the American Japanese occupation in World War II, enables discussions on the following points: (a) the decentralised position of the Shoah in Philippine memory of the Second World War in which the “referential” atrocity in Asia was not the Holocaust but the Japanese occupation; (2) that, at a certain time in history, Europeans were refugees; (3) the fact that “human rights [became] the vehicle on which […] memory travels” (Levy and Sznaider), thus enabling (4)solidarity between victims of colonisation and those of genocide, fostering hospitality and mutual aid, which, unfortunately does not completely rule out instances of orientalism.
    • Jocelyn “Joyce” Martin holds a PhD in languages and literatures from the Université Libre de Bruxelles and researches on Literature, Memory, and Trauma Studies in Southeast Asia, postcolonial literature, and Translation Studies, among others. She has recently published on comfort women statues (Berghahn and Fayard), heroes’ cemeteries and dictators (IJPCS), the vernacular as method for memory (Memory Studies Journal), and “Memory/Memory Studies” from Plato until today (Bloomsbury), among others. She is preparing a volume on Memory Studies and the Philippines (Brill) and co-edited special issues on "Decolonizing Memory." Advisory Board Member of the Memory Studies Association and former University of Ohio Zumkehr Lecturer, she received a “Scholarly Work with the Most Social Impact Award” for the book Triggered in 2022. Managing Editor for Ateneo de Manila University’s Scopus-indexed journal Kritika Kultura, she has just been appointed in-charge of the Masters 2 programme in Conflict and Mediation, Faculty of Humanities, Université Catholique de l’Ouest, Angers, France.
  • Jephta U. Nguherimo: Memories of the genocide and the OvaHerero people's ongoing struggle for restorative justice
    • In my contribution to this roundtable, I will approach the discussion on cosmopolitan memory from the viewpoint of a Namibian activist who has engaged in the OvaHerero people's struggle for restorative justice, for over three decades now. Since Namibian independence, the OvaHerero in Namibia and the Diaspora have been fighting for recognition and reparation of the German colonial genocide (1904 to 1908). In 2001, the OvaHerero under the leadership of the late Paramount Chief Kuaima Riruako first filed a lawsuit against the German government and three multinational firms who were complicit in colonial exploitation and mass atrocities in Namibia during colonial times. In this course, the OvaHerero people have repeatedly compared their cause to the European Holocaust and the reparations paid to NS-slave laborers. While the victim groups gained support from Jewish communities in the US, France and elsewhere, the comparison to the Holocaust provoked heated discussion especially in the German public. The German government has eventually come to officially recognize the genocide in 2015, however the OvaHerero and Nama have not found an international court willing to listen to their witnesses, nor received any reparation, yet. The 'Joint Declaration' between the governments of Namibia and Germany was rejected by the affected communities, on the basis that the so-called negotiations did not include them. Against this background, my presentation will reflect on the transgenerational trauma of the genocide and outline seven principles of "restorative justice". Moreover, it emphasizes that the goal of reparation is the restoration of the dignity of African peoples as victims and descendants of European colonization and enslavement, and therefore we need to humanize the debate.
    • Jephta U. Nguherimois a Namibian activist, poet and professional labor negotiator of Herero-descent, operating between the US and Namibia. He opposed the regime during Namibia’s Apartheid era and spent many years as a political refugee in Botswana and Kenya until he was awarded a prestigious scholarship to study at the University of Rochester, NY, where he earned a B.S. in Philosophy and International Political Economy. In 1997, he received an M.S. in Labor Studies from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. An accomplished labor negotiator, he worked as a union representative and recently retired from Maryland State Education Association. As a fourth-generation descendant of victims of the genocide, Jephta U. Nguherimo organized activities that eventually forced the German government to confront and acknowledge the OvaHerero people's genocide. He has led conversations and presented talks on the struggle for restorative justice and memory of the genocide at several international conferences. He is the author of a book of poetry “unBuried-unMarked: The Untold Namibian Story of the Victims of German Genocide between 1904 -1908” (self-published, 2019) and he published numerous articles in Namibian newspapers and. His lifelong activist work led him to be featured in a documentary film by Al Jazeera “Namibia: The Price of genocide” (2021). As the first Herero-activist, he was recently invited to speak at the UN permanent forum for people of African descent in Geneva in 2022 and in New York in 2023. Jephta U. Nguherimo is also the founder of the OvaHerero People’s Memorial and Reconstruction Foundation (OPMRF).