The use of the term “memorial sites” ("lieu de mémoire" in French) is quite recent (1984). Until the 80’s, the term “important place of memory” was used to describe a particular event in our history. The expression “memorial site” became popular thanks to Pierre Nora1 and his writings.
The use of this term is explained by contemporaries who are worried about existential instability and would need to go back in time to find a mark, to create a connecting atmosphere and to try to get a specific identity back which is weakened by a generalized globalization.
According to Henry Rousso2, the interest for WWII memorial sites would be growing in all Europe.
In France, we principally use the term “memorial sites” to mention the memory of armed conflicts, mainly from WWI and WWII but also from 1870 and the Napoleonic Wars.
The definition given by ICOMOS (International Committee of Monument and Sites) about the genius loci could also qualify the memorial sites as “all material elements (sites, landscapes, buildings, objects) and intangible ones (memories, stories, writings, rituals, sounds, smells…), physic and spiritual ones, giving sens, values, emotion and mystery to the place”.
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1. Pierre NORA, « De l’archive à l’emblème », Les lieux de mémoire, Paris, Gallimard, 1993, tome 3 « Les France ».
2. Henry ROUSSO, interview for Le Monde, November 27th 2001