Europa, our story: European heritage since Homer

What is Europe? This complex question has not stopped provoking controversial debates and controversies. At a time of Brexit and a new rise in nationalism and identity withdrawal, asking the question of what Europeans are seems more relevant than ever. Historians have long sketched cultural, economic, political histories, but no work of the magnitude ofEuropa our story to the Arènes editions and directed by Étienne François and Thomas Serrier had addressed the question of memory and European memories. Is the bet held?

Memory places

Pierre Nora's Places of Memory are undoubtedly a historiographical reference that must be called upon to understand this project. National versions and works on memory subsequently flourished. Étienne François and Thomas Serrier had already sketched a response in the Photographic Documentation, the foreword of which was also signed by Pierre Nora. The editorial work of Europa notre histoire, supported by Hélène de Virieu, deepens the subject and was launched in 2014. The central question to which this work wishes to answer is moreover asked by the directors in its introduction: “European memories are more than the sum of national memories? The final result is made up of 1,392 pages, 149 contributions written by 109 authors sketching a true European “memory millefeuille”.

The show La fabrique de l'histoire offered a very interesting report on the symposium linked to the book where a number of articles were discussed. The documentary also reviewed the design of the project. The diversity of contributors provides original and unique insights into a particular place of memory. The directors wanted non-European authors to participate in the work and question these places of memory from a global perspective. If they come from all over the world, we can note the predominance of Franco-German authors (half, including less than a third French). Many authors from Eastern Europe were also invited to the project. The directors have nevertheless taken care that this book does not represent too much a Western vision of Europe. The diversity is not only geographic, many authors are not historians: “political scientists, philosophers and professors of comparative literature” as the France Culture site notes have participated in this enterprise. The documentary recounts the many fascinating debates sparked by this project and its articles. However, the discussions were not transcribed.

The work initially intended to be published in three volumes is divided into three parts. The first entitled “Presences from the past” questions the actuality of history in our imaginations. The first section entitled “Burns” retraces a certain number of places of memory, especially of the twentieth century, and shows a “past that does not pass” in a certain number of cases. The fractures of Europe are outlined in a common past: if the world wars concerned most of the Europeans, the interpretation of these events and their consequences are far from being shared, in particular between Western Europeans and Eastern Europeans. These burns remain very sharp. In the “Stories” section, the major concepts that make up today's Europe such as democracy, human rights, Reason or the Enlightenment are discussed; but we will note some more original contributions on "the aura of the image" in Europe or "social citizenship". "Cradles" takes us into the field of the various roots of Europe: the myth of Europa, Homer, religions, Jerusalem, Athens and Rome but also law. This section devotes a large part to the neighbors who have influenced the Europe formed in the confrontation and relations with barbarians or Muslims. “Body to Body” takes us into the world of revolutionary struggles, strikes, but also homosexual, counter-revolutionary and women's “minorities”. The European Union is the subject of an article which shows the various projects, ambitions and successive memories which are intertwined and explain the relative failure of this one.


The second part "The Europe" makes a non-exhaustive inventory of personalities, landscapes, imaginaries, passions and fears which have animated and make Europeans vibrate. The section on European landscapes and imaginaries is particularly successful. Some particularly original articles have caught our attention, such as the one entitled "The plague and the wolf" by Gábor Klanicszay but also "Empire and nation" by Jakob Vogel who invites us to overcome the binary opposition of these ideas. Other contributions on the places where Europeans live fully answer the questions raised by the project. The second half of "Les Europe" is made up of articles dealing with borders, exchanges, movements that haunt European memories. The question of Eastern Europe is particularly present in a certain number of articles: “the ramparts of Christendom” or “Central Europe (s)” reveal the feelings and resentments of these Europeans of the " periphery ". These memories of the East are particularly well highlighted. The directors' objective on this point seems to have been fully achieved. Languages ​​and production are also places of memories mentioned at the end of this part.

The last part entitled "Memories-World" deals with the many memories linked to relations with the world. America holds a place of choice: whether it is discovery, imagination, nomenclature or American productions, this part of the world is integrated into European memory. Explorers and travelers have a special place. The heritage of colonization and is not neglected, as illustrated by the many contributions on this subject. This section fully integrates all the historiographical challenges of recent decades. Myths are deconstructed, challenged and multifaceted European domination enlightened. The articles devoted to the various sciences are particularly welcome and enriching in this respect: Kapil Raj shows how the account on the history of European science minimizes, in the context of the Cold War, the external contributions yet so decisive already enlightened by John Tolan and Rémi Brague in this book. While geography as a colonial science has been known and discussed for some time, archeology must also be questioned. The remains of European domination are multifaceted and very real.

Each reader may regret the absence or relevance of this or that article. Some contributions answer the questions asked by the project better than others. The varying size of the items may also query. The lack of an index and the lack of clarity of certain article titles may be detrimental to certain uses. We can also regret the weak presence of historians from southern and northern Europe who would certainly have shed other unique light on these questions. These criticisms should not mask the overall success of the project and of the work which will undeniably mark an essential historiographical milestone. The profiles of readers potentially interested in this book are numerous and largely exceed the historical public. We hope the book will be a success commensurate with the risk and the editorial gamble taken and a reception that will spark a debate that will go beyond the historical field.

Memorial mosaic

The “memorial mille-feuille” is partly highlighted in this book. Completeness would have turned out to be a pipe dream anyway. A memorial mosaic from which a unity emerges at times. The book bears the mark of contemporary European uncertainties resulting from Brexit but more generally from the European context. Certain articles are particularly critical of the political orientations taken by Europeans. Others reflect the pessimism of their authors, like “1989” by György Dalos. If the reader can find an echo to this quote from Pierre Nora “like Verdun and Auschwitz, memories shared on a European scale are essentially negative”, positive memories nevertheless emerge over the course of the book. Like national memories, European memories are far from being unequivocal and seeking unity would amount to putting an order or a narrative on a plurality of experiences. As Akiyoshi Nishiyama points out, “old Europe” still has things to say to the world. The book wonderfully illustrates the doubts but also the European potential.

Europa, our story: The European heritage since Homer. Under the direction of Étienne François and Thomas Serrier, with Pierre Monnet, Akiyoshi Nishiyama, Olaf B. Rader, Valérie Rosoux and Jakob Vogel. Les Arènes, September 2017.

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