This book deals with history's relationship to memory. By individual memory, it means a memory that is located in the minds of individuals and through which those individuals have knowledge of things that fall within their personal experience. Memory of this kind is an integral part of the mental functioning of individuals and is closely linked to concepts of personality and selfhood. But, individual or personal memory is also a part of the mental equipment that allows human beings to function in social settings. Its forms are influenced by its social uses, and it makes a contribution to social knowledge and social understanding that can be explored from a social as well as an individual angle. The book explores how individual memory is a resource both for individuals within society and for societies themselves and how it is connected to larger social processes. The exploration of social memory begins as a facet of the discussion of the social dimensions of in individual; it is carried further through the discussion of the workings of memory in social groups. It is then completed by the discussion of the ways in which representations, understandings and senses of the past are produced within the larger society.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book is concerned with history's relationship to memory which is a deceptively simple statement, since 'memory' and 'history' are both words that have multiple senses. It also is concerned with the practicalities of making memory an object of historical study and with the conceptual and methodological approaches that may help historians to define and to approach memory as an element in historical situations. Individual memory, social memory, and collective memory are the types of memory. The book discusses these types in detail. Finally, the book considers how people have envisaged and debated the perceived relationships between memory and history as forms of knowledge, each purporting in some way to connect present consciousness with past reality.
The broader conceptual context within which the twin vocabularies of history and of memory take on meaning is that of discourse on the relationships of past to present in human societies. John Lukacs writes of history as 'the remembered past', Peter Burke of 'history as social memory', Patrick Hutton of 'history as an art of memory'. Tensions can arise at the point between the idea of history as memorialization or witness and other conceptions of what history ought to be about. Shifting conceptions of the history-memory relationship form part of broader shifts and contests in cultural values. The 'historical past', R. G. Collingwood concluded, is 'not a remembered past, nor a sum of remembered pasts', but an 'ideal past', a past that has been organized through the workings of a constructive analytical imagination.
Psychologists working on memory have developed a number of conceptual distinctions. This chapter presents the general discussion of memory as a reconstructive mental activity. It also presents the discussion of issues of selfhood and narrativity. For oral historians such as Alastair Thomson, the analysis of the mutually constitutive interactions between constructed selfhood and personal memory is a central scholarly objective. The chapter then considers the memory's social and cultural aspects. It focuses on the cognitivist, the subjectivist and the socio-cultural approaches. The cognitivist approach views memory essentially as a vital part of the mental equipment that individuals use to register and process information about the world around them. The approach is individualizing, in the sense that it tends to treat individuals as self-sufficient mnemonic agents, but it is not especially preoccupied with the inner psychic dynamics of selfhood and subjectivity.
This chapter focuses on the inadequacies of the stricter versions of mnemonic individualism. The view of remembering as an action of purely individual minds arbitrarily reduces the complex business of remembering to those of its elements that seem least communicable. Frederic Bartlett's principle focus is on the ways in which individual remembering is affected by group culture, not on the ways in which that culture is related to the larger workings of society. Changes in a society's economic or political arrangements, or in its governing ideologies, may erode the mnemonic cultures previously operative in certain parts of its social and institutional structure. The cultural devices that individuals use in articulating mnemonic and recollective comportments are themselves indicative of broader cultural and therefore sometimes social identities. The connections between memory-formation, social interaction and cultural initiation may be especially obvious in the context of early childhood development.
Scholarly contributions to the study of social memory have tended to have two different kinds of focus. Some have focused essentially on issues of transmission, exploring the impact of different media of communication on the retention and formulation of past-related knowledge. Others have been concerned with issues of public representation, with analysing the cultural productions through which specific understandings of a collective past have been articulated at particular historical moments, and with exploring the politics of this representational activity. It is important also to attend to the material and environmental aspects of social memory processes. The operations of power leave their mark not just on the representations of the past that are produced within society, but on the social relationships that govern transmission. Tradition works through normativity, through routine, through the conforming of individual behaviour to socially prescribed patterns.
This chapter seeks to draw on elements of scholarship in focusing attention on certain aspects of the dynamics and politics of social memory in modern national settings. Events may also take on significance from patterns of expectation that are rooted in the memory of earlier episodes. Commemorations of specific events seldom confine themselves to revisiting the detail of the events themselves. Public commemorative activities are not the only cultural vehicles that influence the formation of a sense of the collective past in human societies. The historical connections and emphases that are articulated in public culture are generally easier to uncover than those that may be at work in the minds of ordinary members of society. Contestations over the appropriate narrative framing of episodes are only one of the things that can make the remembering of events or experiences socially problematic.