"Acoustic Memory" - An Obstacle on the Path to a Common European Collective Memory?

This project is devoted to fundamental research and draws on empirical evidence in order to explore the hypothesis that memory is influenced as much by acoustic impulses as it is by visual impulses. A feasibility study is currently being carried out.

Whereas the meaning, effects and development of memorial icons, along with the visual memory of social groups, has already been researched in depth, relatively little attention has been paid to acoustic memory. Yet sounds, voices, tones and noises impinge on the human mind in such a way that it is similarly easy to remember them. This begs the question: Which spoken sounds do we associate with specific historical events? Unlike images, these sounds (presuming they are not musical sounds) are not universal and are therefore understood primarily by a specific speech community. One could thus assume that acoustic memory is largely a particularist memory, which poses a theoretical and practical problem for any attempt to "Europeanize" historical and political education.

The project will start by testing and reviewing the initial theory. After first establishing the existence of an acoustic memory it would be necessary to determine the nature and degree of homogeneity of such memories. Collections of important political sound recordings are available but generally viewed as ‘national sound museums’. Soviet influence may have left strong transnational acoustic relicts throughout Eastern Europe but no comparative international research has yet addressed this phenomenon. The findings from this project will most likely be of particular relevance to considerations of media use in European-oriented lessons.

The project team presented a study on the acoustic dimension of textbooks at the conference of the International Society of History Didactics (ISHD Yearbook 2011) and have introduced the subject at international conferences in Prague and Saratov. An examination of how a silent medium such as a textbook can be considered acoustic or what attempts are made to compensate for the absence of speech are in their infancy, as are questions regarding the extent to which an acoustic memory is formed and perpetuated through addressing acoustic events. Currently the project is exploring how digital humanities and linguistic techniques might assist in the exploration of how imagined sound penetrates textbooks. A funding application is in progress. 

German-Russian Pilot Project

In 2008 a German-Russian pilot project compiled an inventory survey and collected primary findings. A conference in Wolgograd, organized together with the Academy of Civil Service Wolgograd (VAGS), addressed the theme “Acoustic Memory and the Second World War.” At the conference an experiment was made to edit the sonosphere of World War II in order to make it accessible for class instruction. To this end, students at the Karlsruhe College of Design prepared acoustic (video) clips as well.


Acoustic Clips


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Maier, R.: „Das akustische Gedächtnis – eine Barriere auf dem Weg zu einem europäischen Geschichtsunterricht?“, LWL-Landesmuseum Zeche Nachtigall, Witten, 12.5.2018. 


  • Maier, Robert (2016): Akustisches Gedächtnis und Geschichtsbewusstsein in: Geschichte für heute, Vol 2/2016, p. 5-15. 
  • Maier, Robert (2015): Akustisches Gedächtnis und Geschichtsbewusstsein. In: Zdeněk Beneš und Robert Maier (ed.): Geschichtsunterricht, Geschichtsbewusstsein und Geschichtskultur zwischen Massenmedien, Schulbuch und Unterrichtsmaterialen, Prag p. 123-137.
  • Maier, Robert (2012): Lautlose Geschichte? Das Geschichtsbuch und die akustische Dimension. In: T. A. Bogoljubova und N. I. Devjatajkina (ed.): Kul'turnaja pamjat' i memorial'nye kommunikacii v sovremennych učebnikach i učebnoj literature. Opyt Rossii i Zapadnoj Evropy; sbornik dokladov i materialov meždunarodnoj konferencii. Meždunarodnaja konferencija. Saratow, Russland: Nauka, p. 81–89.
  • Maier, Robert (2012): Bezzvučnaja istorija? Škol'nye učebniki istorii i akustičeskoe izmerenie. In: Prepodovanie istorii i obščestvovanija v škole 12 (6), p. 65–69.
  • Maier, Robert; Assmann, Aleida (ed.) (2011): Akustisches Gedächtnis und Zweiter Weltkrieg. Göttingen: V&R unipress (Eckert. Die Schriftenreihe, 126). 233 p.
  • Sidikov, Bahodir (2011): Erhörte Zeit: Akustische Reminiszenzen an den Zweiten Weltkrieg in der russisch-sowjetischen Dichtung. In: Robert Maier und Aleida Assmann (ed.): Akustisches Gedächtnis und Zweiter Weltkrieg. Göttingen: V&R unipress (Eckert. Die Schriftenreihe, 126), p. 75–97.
  • Maier, Robert (2011): History Textbooks and the Acoustic Dimension. A New Field for Textbook Analysis? In: Elisabeth Erdmann, Susanne Popp und Jutta Schumann (ed.): Analyzing textbooks: methodological issues. Schulbuchanalyse: Fragen zur Methodologie - L'analyse des manuels: questions méthodologiques. International Society for History Didactics. Schwalbach am Taunus: Wochenschau-Verl. (Yearbook / International Society for the Didactics of History, 2011), p. 193–202.
  • Maier, Robert; Genadij G. Slyškin (ed.) (2009): Pamjat' o Vtoroj mirovoj vojne v sovremennych kommunikativnych technologijach [Die Erinnerung an den Zweiten Weltkrieg in modernen Kommunikationstechnologien]. Konferenzband zur Konferenz 'Schlacht um Stalingrad: Rückblick nach 65 Jahren'. Georg-Eckert-Institut. Wolgograd: Paradigma. 100 p.

Empirical Survey