Remembering Activism: The Cultural Memory of Protest in Europe


21 January 2020
15:15 - 17:00
Drift 25, Room 0.01

Seminar with Astrid Erll: Literary Memory Activism in an Age of Migration: The Refugee Tales

This lecture addresses the practice of literary memory activism, using the Refugee Tales ( as an example. Refugee Tales is an outreach project of the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group. Its aim is to put an end to indefinite detention of immigrants in prison-like Removal Centres. As a form of literary memory activism, Refugee Tales works across a remarkably wide range of literature in its symbolic, social, and medial dimensions: With its intertextual reference to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, it mobilizes the literary canon; with its walks “in solidarity with refugees, asylum seekers, and detainees” it redefines the landscape of South East England; with its strategy of collaborative storytelling (where British authors, often themselves with experiences of migration, “help tell” the refugees’ tales) it creates shared memories of migration, and offers to the public new ways of thinking and speaking about immigrants; last not least, with its presence across diverse media platforms – webpage, youtube, printed books (Refugee Tales I-III, Comma Press, 2016-19) – it provides a transnational presence of its concerns. The Refugee Tales is a remarkable example of the strategies and possibilities of literary memory activism in our present age of migration. My talk will discuss the project’s strategies and look into its successes and failures to change the rhetoric, mnemonic, and legal dimensions of immigration to Britain.

Astrid Erll is Professor of Anglophone Literatures and Cultures at Goethe University Frankfurt. Her publications include “Memory in Culture” (2011), an introduction to memory studies, which was translated into Spanish, Chinese, and Polish, as well as “Mediation, Remediation, and the Dynamics of Cultural Memory” (2009) and “Cultural Memory after the Transnational Turn” (2018, both co-edited with Ann Rigney). She is currently writing a book on memories of the Odyssey.

This seminar is organized in the context of the ERC-funded research project Remembering Activism (ReACT).
Contact: Prof. Dr. Ann Rigney (