History in the Making author in focus: Joanna Molloy

Joanna Molloy is the author of “How does the film ‘Dresden- The Inferno’ reconstruct life in Dresden and represent the trauma suffered by victims of the 1945 Dresden bombing,” recently published in Volume 5, Number 1 of History in the Making. 

Here, Joanna reflects on the context behind her article, her future reading plans, and on what she views as key contributions and contributors to the field of History.

What’s your favourite history book?

One of my favourite history books is Eric Hobsbawm’s ‘Interesting Times – A Twentieth-Century Life’. Hobsbawm lived in Vienna in the 1920s, witnessed the rise of Nationalist Socialism in Berlin in the early 1930s, arrived in England in 1933 and went on to study history at Cambridge. In this book he discussed world events and forces such as Fascism, Communism and the Cold War by drawing on, and combining his personal experiences of the twentieth-century with his interpretations as an academic historian.

Who is a historian you admire and why?

I also like Mary Fulbrook’s extensive writings on Germany in the twentieth-century, and the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in particular. She uses a wide range of sources and approaches; combining state records, cultural artifacts and oral histories. Her writing is clear and measured, and she sees GDR society in its complexity, rather than framing the GDR with Cold War ideology.

How did you come to your topic for your article?

I came across the topic for my article when I was doing a course at Macquarie University on trauma in the twentieth-century. I became interested in the ways that Germans remembered and culturally expressed their experiences of World War Two, and how collective memory developed. I wanted to find out about how Germans had dealt with the destruction of their cities and the deaths of over 400,000 civilians, in a post war period that focused on the horrors of the Holocaust and tended to interpret German trauma and loss as an act of self-pity, or even as something that was deserved.

How did you find and access your primary sources?

I turned my focus to the bombing of Dresden in 1945 and came across a German film, Dresden – The Inferno (2006), which suggested it was ‘finally’ going to deal with the ‘taboos’ of the Allied bombing of Dresden in 1945. I analysed the film as a construct of memory. In my article I show that the film did not really address German loss, but focused rather on the rebuilding of Dresden as symbolic of reconciliation.

Where would you like to take your research next?

Since writing the Dresden article I have continued my focus on memory and cultural artifacts and I have been exploring memories of the German Democratic Republic expressed in memoirs, novels and films. They are such complex artifacts as they combine subjective interpretations of lived experience of the GDR and are intertwined with identity building in the present, and reflect their author’s experiences in post unification Germany. I am drawing on the Maurice Halbwach’s memory work and its interpretation by Astrid Erll and Jan and Aleida Assmann. They identify the significance of media in memory construction and that films and novels, for example, are not neutral carriers of information about the past.

What do you plan to read next?

Next on my reading list is Aleida Assmann’s book Shadows of Trauma – Memory and the Politics of Postwar Identity (2016). In this book Assmann discusses the theoretical foundations of memory and deals with the questions of truth and authenticity in memories of the past.

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