What is history and why do I write it? Afterthoughts on the contemporary past

Out of the eighteen items from post-communist Romania collected and documented by visual anthropologist Alyssa Grossman and brought to stop-motion life by visual artist Selena Kimball in their joint split-screen installation Memory Objects, Memory Dialogues (2011) – out of those eighteen items, one in particular caught my attention when I first saw the film version of their work on my tiny laptop monitor: a boxed set of educational slides – diafilme in Romanian – dated 1975 and entitled Istoria patriei (History of the Fatherland).

What was it that struck me? Hardly the portrait of Mihai Viteazul, the Wallachian prince who conquered and held the neighboring principalities of Moldova and Transylvania for a few years around the dawn of the 17th century, which adorned its yellowed lid. On the contrary, considering that his tragic story – just as he seemed to have definitely secured his dominion over the newly acquired territories, Mihai was assassinated on the orders of his closest ally, the Habsburg general Giorgio Basta – would later be glorified by Romanian nationalists in their own struggles against the Ottoman empire, anyone else would have been unexpected. Rather, I immediately felt that this tarnished casing, even more than the other articles in Grossman and Kimball’s “memory archive,” really encapsulated something like history – although not quite in the sense intended, in all probability, by the team of university professors gathered under editor Mariana Geamănu.

“What is history and why do I write it? Afterthoughts on the contemporary past”, in Claes Caldenby, Andrej Slávik, Julia Tedroff & Martin Farran-Lee (eds.), Architecture, photography, and the contemporary past (Stockholm: Art & Theory, 2014), s. 148– 159 (12 s.), ISBN 978–91–981573–5–2. Read the entire text here.