History, Public History, and Democracy

by Cord Arendes (University of Heidelberg)

The obstruction of the work of historians by state authorities, as well as the support of authoritarian regimes by historians, marks the entire 20th century. But not only in authoritarian states free historical research is subject to many restrictions. In democracies we can find obstacles to free historical research too, such as the “remembrance laws” discussed and /or introduced in some European countries.
The Belgian historian Antoon de Baets has dealt with the interrelationships between democracy and historical consciousness as well as democracy and historiography under the slogan “responsible history” or “responsible history writing”. The strong participatory orientation of public history, as well as the reflection on the understanding of the role of historians as a result of the expansion of the actors involved, emphasizes the need for a (re-)formulation of the relationship between historiography, public history and democracy: as a pragmatic, democratic-theoretical or question of scientific ethics.