10th HEIRS Conference: History, Memory and European Identity

Maastricht University, 5-6 June 2014

The question of how to generate a sense of belonging to a multinational political community has preoccupied intellectuals and politicians since the founding moments of the European Union. Particularly in times of stress and doubt calls for a European identity have become a central topic. Currently, in the wake of the on-going EU crisis discussions about the connection between the construction (or the lack) of a common European identity and legitimacy of EU governance are coming back to the fore. Debates centre on the question if and how the EU can effectively and lawfully operate if its citizens do not sustain the integration project sufficiently enough. Apart from discussions on the possibility of and the need for a political identity we can discern a separate discourse on questions surrounding the development of a cultural identity and common memory of Europe. The concepts of identity, memory and lieux de mémoire are in fact deeply interwoven.

Attempts to generate a European cultural or political identity are almost as old as the European integration project itself. Official identity politics on the other hand are a fairly new phenomenon. Despite the fact that social scientists have invested considerable efforts in trying to analyse the latter, historical approaches are still underrepresented. This conference aimed at understanding the on-going debates on cultural and political identity. It investigated efforts made by different political and social actors since the 1950s to generate a sense of belonging to the European Union. How did early attempts of fostering a European identity look like? Who were the actors and agents? Is a common identity dependent on the actions of classical political actors? Which elements of European history have been harnessed in order to provide a basis for a common identity?

For the conference report of the Tenth HEIRS conference, please see the following document:

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