Collective memories are key to social movements. Activists draw on a shared history to build identity, create movement cohesion, and focus political purpose. But what happens when marginalized communities do not find their history in dominant narratives? How do they create a usable past to bind their political communities together and challenge their exclusion?
In Clio’s Foot Soldiers, Lara Leigh Kelland investigates these questions by examining 1960s and 1970s social movements comprised of historically marginalized peoples: Civil Rights, Black Power, Women’s and Gay Liberation, and American Indian. These movements sought ownership over their narratives to create historical knowledge reflective of their particular experiences. To accomplish their goals, activists generated new forms of adult education, published movement newspapers, and pursued campus activism and speeches, public history efforts and community organizations. Through alternative means, marginalized communities developed their own historical discourses to mobilize members, define movement goals, and become culturally sovereign. In so doing, they provided a basis for achieving political liberation and changed the landscape of liberal cultural institutions.
There is one critical way we honor great tragedies: by never forgetting. Collective remembrance is as old as human society itself, serving as an important source of social cohesion, yet as Jeffrey Andrew Barash shows in this book, it has served novel roles in a modern era otherwise characterized by discontinuity and dislocation. Drawing on recent theoretical explorations of collective memory, he elaborates an important new philosophical basis for it, one that unveils profound limitations to its scope in relation to the historical past.
Crucial to Barash’s analysis is a look at the radical transformations that symbolic configurations of collective memory have undergone with the rise of new technologies of mass communication. He provocatively demonstrates how such technologies’ capacity to simulate direct experience—especially via the image—actually makes more palpable collective memory’s limitations and the opacity of the historical past, which always lies beyond the reach of living memory. Thwarting skepticism, however, he eventually looks to literature—specifically writers such as Walter Scott, Marcel Proust, and W. G. Sebald—to uncover subtle nuances of temporality that might offer inconspicuous emblems of a past historical reality.
Communities of Style examines the production and circulation of portable luxury goods throughout the Levant in the early Iron Age (1200–600 BCE). In particular it focuses on how societies in flux came together around the material effects of art and style, and their role in collective memory.
Marian H. Feldman brings her dual training as an art historian and an archaeologist to bear on the networks that were essential to the movement and trade of luxury goods—particularly ivories and metal works—and how they were also central to community formation. The interest in, and relationships to, these art objects, Feldman shows, led to wide-ranging interactions and transformations both within and between communities. Ultimately, she argues, the production and movement of luxury goods in the period demands a rethinking of our very geo-cultural conception of the Levant, as well as its influence beyond what have traditionally been thought of as its borders.
When an epidemic strikes, media outlets are central to how an outbreak is framed and understood. While reporters construct stories intended to inform the public and convey essential information from doctors and politicians, news narratives also serve as historical records, capturing sentiments, responses, and fears throughout the course of the epidemic.
Constructing the Outbreak demonstrates how news reporting on epidemics communicates more than just information about pathogens; rather, prejudices, political agendas, religious beliefs, and theories of disease also shape the message. Analyzing seven epidemics spanning more than two hundred years—from Boston’s smallpox epidemic and Philadelphia’s yellow fever epidemic in the eighteenth century to outbreaks of diphtheria, influenza, and typhoid in the early twentieth century—Katherine A. Foss discusses how shifts in journalism and medicine influenced the coverage, preservation, and fictionalization of different disease outbreaks. Each case study highlights facets of this interplay, delving into topics such as colonization, tourism, war, and politics. Through this investigation into what has been preserved and forgotten in the collective memory of disease, Foss sheds light on current health care debates, like vaccine hesitancy.
Images of the assassination of John F. Kennedy are burned deeply into the memories of millions who watched the events of November 1963 unfold live on television. Never before had America seen an event of this magnitude as it happened. But what is it we remember? How did the near chaos of the shooting and its aftermath get transformed into a seamless story of epic proportions? In this book, Barbie Zelizer explores the way we learned about and came to make sense of the killing of the president.
Covering the Body (the title refers to the charge given journalists to follow a president) is a powerful reassessment of the media's role in shaping our collective memory of the assassination—at the same time as it used the assassination coverage to legitimize its own role as official interpreter of American reality. Of the more than fifty reporters covering Kennedy in Dallas, no one actually saw the assassination. And faced with a monumentally important story that was continuously breaking, most journalists had no time to verify leads or substantiate reports. Rather, they took discrete moments of their stories and turned them into one coherent narrative, blurring what was and was not "professional" about their coverage.
Through incisive analyses of the many accounts and investigations in the years since the shooting, Zelizer reveals how journalists used the assassination not just to relay the news but to address the issues they saw as central to the profession and to promote themselves as cultural authorities. Indeed, argues Zelizer, these motivations are still alive and are at the core of the controversy surrounding Oliver Stone's movie, JFK.
At its heart, Covering the Body raises serious questions about the role of the media in defining our reality, and shaping our myths and memories. In tracing how journalists attempted to answer questions that still trouble most Americans, Zelizer offers a fascinating analysis of the role of the media as cultural authorities.
When discussing large social trends or experiences, we tend to group people into generations. But what does it mean to be part of a generation, and what gives that group meaning and coherence? It's collective memory, say Amy Corning and Howard Schuman, and in Generations and Collective Memory, they draw on an impressive range of research to show how generations share memories of formative experiences, and how understanding the way those memories form and change can help us understand society and history.
Their key finding—built on historical research and interviews in the United States and seven other countries (including China, Japan, Germany, Lithuania, Russia, Israel, and Ukraine)—is that our most powerful generational memories are of shared experiences in adolescence and early adulthood, like the 1963 Kennedy assassination for those born in the 1950s or the fall of the Berlin Wall for young people in 1989. But there are exceptions to that rule, and they're significant: Corning and Schuman find that epochal events in a country, like revolutions, override the expected effects of age, affecting citizens of all ages with a similar power and lasting intensity.
The picture Corning and Schuman paint of collective memory and its formation is fascinating on its face, but it also offers intriguing new ways to think about the rise and fall of historical reputations and attitudes toward political issues.
Historic preservation is a cultural movement gaining momentum and adherents throughout Europe and the United States. How do we decide what to preserve and how to preserve? Who benefits from the efforts of preservationists, curators, developers, and other "symbolic bankers" to safeguard an increasing variety of structures for future generations? Diane Barthel raises these and other questions in this important new book. Taking a comparative approach, Barthel finds that preservation in Britain has largely been an elite enterprise aimed at preserving traditional values. In the United States, by contrast, the pattern is much more dynamic and democratic, though also more permeated by commercialism. Is preservation becoming another means of consuming history, like media representations or "historic" shopping outlets? Or does it have a special significance as a very tangible means of getting in touch with our collective and individual pasts? These and other issues--including war and remembrance, agrarian and industrial preservation, and religious preservation in a secular society--demonstrate the significance of what Barthel calls "the Preservation Project" and why we all have a stake in how our history is reconstructed and interpreted.
In 73 A.D., legend has it, 960 Jewish rebels under siege in the ancient desert fortress of Masada committed suicide rather than surrender to a Roman legion. Recorded in only one historical source, the story of Masada was obscure for centuries. In The Masada Myth, Israeli sociologist Nachman Ben-Yehuda tracks the process by which Masada became an ideological symbol for the State of Israel, the dramatic subject of movies and miniseries, a shrine venerated by generations of Zionists and Israeli soldiers, and the most profitable tourist attraction in modern Israel.
Ben-Yehuda describes how, after nearly 1800 years, the long, complex, and unsubstantiated narrative of Josephus Flavius was edited and augmented in the twentieth century to form a simple and powerful myth of heroism. He looks at the ways this new mythical narrative of Masada was created, promoted, and maintained by pre-state Jewish underground organizations, the Israeli army, archaeological teams, mass media, youth movements, textbooks, the tourist industry, and the arts. He discusses the various organizations and movements that created “the Masada experience” (usually a ritual trek through the Judean desert followed by a climb to the fortress and a dramatic reading of the Masada story), and how it changed over decades from a Zionist pilgrimage to a tourist destination.
Placing the story in a larger historical, sociological, and psychological context, Ben-Yehuda draws upon theories of collective memory and mythmaking to analyze Masada’s crucial role in the nation-building process of modern Israel and the formation of a new Jewish identity. An expert on deviance and social control, Ben-Yehuda looks in particular at how and why a military failure and an enigmatic, troubling case of mass suicide (in conflict with Judaism’s teachings) were reconstructed and fabricated as a heroic tale.
What’s in a name? As Osumaka Likaka argues in this illuminating study, the names that Congolese villagers gave to European colonizers reveal much about how Africans experienced and reacted to colonialism. The arrival of explorers, missionaries, administrators, and company agents allowed Africans to observe Westerners’ physical appearances, behavior, and cultural practices at close range—often resulting in subtle yet trenchant critiques. By naming Europeans, Africans turned a universal practice into a local mnemonic system, recording and preserving the village’s understanding of colonialism in the form of pithy verbal expressions that were easy to remember and transmit across localities, regions, and generations.
Methodologically innovative, Naming Colonialism advances a new approach that shows how a cultural process—the naming of Europeans—can provide a point of entry into economic and social histories. Drawing on archival documents and oral interviews, Likaka encounters and analyzes a welter of coded fragments. The vivid epithets Congolese gave to rubber company agents—“the home burner,” “Leopard,” “Beat, beat,” “The hippopotamus-hide whip”—clearly conveyed the violence that underpinned colonial extractive economies. Other names were subtler, hinting at derogatory meaning by way of riddles, metaphors, or symbols to which the Europeans were oblivious. Africans thus emerge from this study as autonomous actors whose capacity to observe, categorize, and evaluate reverses our usual optic, providing a critical window on Central African colonialism in its local and regional dimensions.
On Collective Memory
Maurice Halbwachs University of Chicago Press, 1992 Library of Congress BF378.S65H35 1992 | Dewey Decimal 306.42
How do we use our mental images of the present to reconstruct our past? Maurice Halbwachs (1877-1945) addressed this question for the first time in his work on collective memory, which established him as a major figure in the history of sociology. This volume, the first comprehensive English-language translation of Halbwach's writings on the social construction of memory, fills a major gap in the literature on the sociology of knowledge.
Halbwachs' primary thesis is that human memory can only function within a collective context. Collective memory, Halbwachs asserts, is always selective; various groups of people have different collective memories, which in turn give rise to different modes of behavior. Halbwachs shows, for example, how pilgrims to the Holy Land over the centuries evoked very different images of the events of Jesus' life; how wealthy old families in France have a memory of the past that diverges sharply from that of the nouveaux riches; and how working class construction of reality differ from those of their middle-class counterparts.
With a detailed introduction by Lewis A. Coser, this translation will be an indispensable source for new research in historical sociology and cultural memory.
Lewis A. Coser is Distinguished Professor of Sociology Emeritus at the State University of New York and Adjunct Professor of Sociology at Boston College.
This volume breaks new ground in the study of how national culture, disciplinary tradition, epistemological choice, and political expediency affect the construction of collective memory and, then, how historians work with—and sometimes against—those constructions. Essays focus on a variety of commemorative rites, ranging from the quincentennial of Copernicus to the centennials of Pasteur, Darwin, and Planck; from the tercentenary of Harvard to the half centennial of Los Alamos; from the centennial of evolutionary theory to anniversaries of research schools in molecular biology.
Contributors include Clark A. Elliott, Owen Gingerich, Dieter Hoffmann, Dominque Pestre, Robert W. Seidel, and V. Betty Smocovitis.
Because new nations need new pasts, they create new ways of commemorating and recasting select historic events. In Recovered Roots, Yael Zerubavel illuminates this dynamic process by examining the construction of Israeli national tradition.
In the years leading to the birth of Israel, Zerubavel shows, Zionist settlers in Palestine consciously sought to rewrite Jewish history by reshaping Jewish memory. Zerubavel focuses on the nationalist reinterpretation of the defense of Masada against the Romans in 73 C.E. and the Bar Kokhba revolt of 133-135; and on the transformation of the 1920 defense of a new Jewish settlement in Tel Hai into a national myth. Zerubavel demonstrates how, in each case, Israeli memory transforms events that ended in death and defeat into heroic myths and symbols of national revival.
Drawing on a broad range of official and popular sources and original interviews, Zerubavel shows that the construction of a new national tradition is not necessarily the product of government policy but a creative collaboration between politicans, writers, and educators. Her discussion of the politics of commemoration demonstrates how rival groups can turn the past into an arena of conflict as they posit competing interpretations of history and opposing moral claims on the use of the past. Zerubavel analyzes the emergence of counter-memories within the reality of Israel's frequent wars, the ensuing debates about the future of the occupied territories, and the embattled relations with Palestinians.
A fascinating examination of the interplay between history and memory, this book will appeal to historians, sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists, and folklorists, as well as to scholars of cultural studies, literature, and communication.
"Time Maps extends beyond all of the old clichés about linear, circular, and spiral patterns of historical process and provides us with models of the actual legends used to map history. It is a brilliant and elegant exercise in model building that provides new insights into some of the old questions about philosophy of history, historical narrative, and what is called straight history."-Hayden White, University of California, Santa Cruz
Who were the first people to inhabit North America? Does the West Bank belong to the Arabs or the Jews? Why are racists so obsessed with origins? Is a seventh cousin still a cousin? Why do some societies name their children after dead ancestors?
As Eviatar Zerubavel demonstrates in Time Maps, we cannot answer burning questions such as these without a deeper understanding of how we envision the past. In a pioneering attempt to map the structure of our collective memory, Zerubavel considers the cognitive patterns we use to organize the past in our minds and the mental strategies that help us string together unrelated events into coherent and meaningful narratives, as well as the social grammar of battles over conflicting interpretations of history. Drawing on fascinating examples that range from Hiroshima to the Holocaust, from Columbus to Lucy, and from ancient Egypt to the former Yugoslavia, Zerubavel shows how we construct historical origins; how we tie discontinuous events together into stories; how we link families and entire nations through genealogies; and how we separate distinct historical periods from one another through watersheds, such as the invention of fire or the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Most people think the Roman Empire ended in 476, even though it lasted another 977 years in Byzantium. Challenging such conventional wisdom, Time Maps will be must reading for anyone interested in how the history of our world takes shape.
Probes the complicated relationship between postwar America between historical memory and commercial culture-popular television, music, and film.
"Time Passages is a far-reaching-and perhaps permanent-contribution to cultural studies." San Francisco Review of Books
"This high take on 'low' culture examines the complex web of popular narratives that arise from and create the American collective memory. Studying the period from the end of World War II to the present, Lipsitz . . . inventively explores the popular canon, turning variously to television, rock music, film, novels, and the Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans." Publishers Weekly
"What really separates Lipsitz from earlier critics of popular culture is that he got his rock diploma from the high-school gym, not the Frankfurt School. Lipsitz knows the color of the labels, the B-sides, the cover versions." Boston Phoenix Literary Section
"In a series of provocative and finely crafted essays on film, rock 'n' roll, early television, popular novels, New Orleans Mardi Gras celebrations, and other aspects of popular culture, Lipsitz argues that popular culture has been, and remains, an arena of hope, possibility, criticism, and even resistance for millions of ordinary people." American Studies
George Lipsitz is professor of ethnic studies at the University of California, San Diego, where he serves as director of the Thurgood Marshall Institute. He is the author of many books, including American Studies in a Moment of Danger, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics (1998), and Dangerous Crossroads: Popular Music, Postmodernism, and the Poetics of Place (1997). He also edited Stan Weir's Singlejack Solidarity (2004).
A nation's collective memory does not simply exist. It is created. But what factors influence its form and content? And what roles do the news media play in fashioning our collective memory? Here Jill A. Edy observes the process of negotiating a meaning for the past as it unfolds in the news, exploring the ways that news practices, the relationships between actors who make the news, the expectations of news audiences, and the impact of current events affect the development of collective memories in a mass society.Using the 1965 Watts riots and the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago as case studies, Edy creates a useful framework for understanding how, over time, conflicting versions of events are resolved, what forms the resolutions take, and how those resolutions influence the representation of current news stories. Anyone who is interested in political communication and the role of media in public culture will find a wealth of insights in this valuable new book.
In the decades since the Vietnam War, veteran memoirs have influenced Americans’ understanding of the conflict. Yet few historians or literary scholars have scrutinized how the genre has shaped the nation’s collective memory of the war and its aftermath. Instead, veterans’ accounts are mined for colorful quotes and then dropped from public discourse; are accepted as factual sources with little attention to how memory, no matter how authentic, can diverge from events; or are not contextualized in terms of the race, gender, or class of the narrators.
Veteran Narratives and the Collective Memory of the Vietnam War is a landmark study of the cultural heritage of the war in Vietnam as presented through the experience of its American participants. Crossing disciplinary borders in ways rarely attempted by historians, John A. Wood unearths truths embedded in the memoirists’ treatments of combat, the Vietnamese people, race relations in the United States military, male-female relationships in the war zone, and veterans’ postwar troubles. He also examines the publishing industry’s influence on collective memory, discussing, for example, the tendency of publishers and reviewers to privilege memoirs critical of the war. Veteran Narratives is a significant and original addition to the literature on Vietnam veterans and the conflict as a whole.