LEO SPITZER is a cultural and comparative historian and a writer working in the interdisciplinary field of Memory Studies. On the basis of research in Africa, Latin America, and Europe, he employs photography, personal and familial oral history, and wide ranging testimonial materials to examine responses to colonialism and domination as well as postmemories of subordination and genocide.
Certainly, the person I am, and the historian I am, has been marked by cataclysmic events that surrounded my formative years. I was born in Bolivia to parents fleeing Nazi persecution in Austria. I was raised within a community of German-speaking, largely Jewish, refugees who had been forced to abandon (through what we now call “ethnic cleansing”) lands in Europe with which they, and generations of their forebears, had identified – lands into whose dominant culture they had attempted to assimilate. Anti-Semitic displacement, the insecurities of refugeehood, alarming news from the European warfront, the silences of less fortunate family members left behind, revelation of the immense scale of the genocidal criminality that we’ve come to call the Holocaust – all these enveloped my childhood and left their indentations and notches on who I am.
My goal as a historian is not to provide a seamless and impersonal narrative of events in which subjectivity and emotion is suppressed or left unacknowledged. For me, the voice (or, perhaps more accurately, the voices) of the historian, however, interested, as well as the multiple voices and memories of the participants – the stories they tell and how they tell these stories – are as much part of the fabric of history as are written records and other archival materials. To take into account and reveal subjectivity and affect – to consider what is remembered as well as what is forgotten, fears as well as imaginings, the apprehension and misapprehension of events – complicates and restores a measure of contingency to history. It deepens our historical understanding and helps us to resist interpretive closure.