Marianne Hirsch was born in Romania and immigrated to the United States with her parents in 1962. She went to high school in Providence, Rhode Island, and studied Comparative Literature at Brown University where she received her B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees. She taught at Dartmouth College for thirty years, and is currently William Peterfied Trent Professor of English and Comparative Literature and of Women and Gender Studies at Columbia University in New York. She is the winner of numerous fellowships and awards, including the Guggenheim, ACLS, Rockefeller, Mary Ingraham Bunting Institute, AAUW, Wellesley Center for Research on Women. She is the former editor of PMLA, the journal of the Modern Language Association of America. She has written, edited or co-edited fifteen volumes, including a book on mothers and daughters in literature, The Mother/Daughter Plot, several books on photography and memory including Family Frames: Photography, Narrative, and Postmemory and The Familial Gaze, and several books on feminist criticism and theory, including Conflicts in Feminism. For the last two decades, she has been writing about cultural memory, particularly about the inherited memory of the Second World War and the Holocaust. Her latest book Ghosts of Home: The Afterlife of Czernowitz in Jewish Memory, co-authored with her husband Leo Spitzer, is a family/communal memoir about the city in which her parents grew up and survived the Holocaust.
My mother once explained to me that I was conceived in Vienna but born in Bolivia. My parents had fled Nazi persecution in Austria. I was raised in La Paz within a community of German-speaking refugees who had been forced to abandon 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 indentations and notches on who I am. And yet, that childhood was also lived among people who adjusted their lives, and defied oblivion, by attempting to reconstruct a version of the world they had been forced to abandon. They employed memory - their personal and collective nostalgia, as well as their critical and bitter recollections of their native lands - in the service of personal and cultural survival.
When I now specifically try to identify aspects of my childhood that stayed with me and affected me as a writer and historian, a sense of myself as "outsider," as "marginal," "in-between," is fundamental. I emigrated to the United States when I was ten years old. I acquired a new language here and, largely unconsciously, was North Americanized by an assimilationist process. I was educated, socialized, politicized to become part of the dominant culture in this country, and, over the years, was fortunate enough to be rewarded by its institutions. But, having already been profoundly inscribed in childhood with the history and culture of a people who had been defined as "other," and who had been persecuted and marginalized, I also never felt totally absorbed by this process.
I am now the Kathe Tappe Vernon Professor of History Emeritus from Dartmouth College, where I taught for forty years. I live in New York city and Norwich, Vermont with my wife and long-time collaborator, Marianne Hirsch. I have published many essays and written a number of books - all of which directly or indirectly deal with displacement, resistance, and with the role of personal and cultural memory. In this regard, I wish to highlight Hotel Bolivia: The Culture of Memory in a Refuge from Nazism and Lives in Between: Assimilation and Marginality in Austria, Brazil and West Africa as well as the co-edited Acts of Memory: Cultural Recall in the Present. But I especially wish to register Marianne Hirsch's and my latest co-authored book, Ghosts of Home: the Afterlife of Czernowitz in Jewish Memory, a family/communal memoir about a city that can no longer be found in any contemporary atlas but which (in Aharon Appelfed's words) nonetheless vividly persists "like a wonderful gift and relentless curse."