Olick, Jeffrey, Vered Vinitzky-Seroussi, and Daniel Levy, eds. The Collective Memory Reader. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Legend
1 = page number
“…” = quote of book text
“… “…” …” = text in quotation marks in book text
‘…’ = quote in book of another text (source)
[…] = my notes
= summary or paraphrase of book text

 

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Table of Contents

Introduction

18
Maurice Halbwachs: ‘It is in society that people normally acquire their memories. It is also in society that they recall, recognize, and localize their memories.’ Forms of memory vary according to social organization; society provides a framework for individual memory. Memory is framed in the present and in the past, and variable rather than constant.

20
“Collective memory…has a life of its own… There are long-term structures to what societies remember or commemorate that are stubbornly impervious to the efforts of individuals to escape them…” Institutions favor certain histories over others. [And even if they work to suppress certain memories from above, those persist in the collective memory.]

Halbwachs: “He characterized collective memory as plural, showing that shared memories can be effective markers of social differentiation.”

37
“Memory—relating past and present—is thus the central faculty of being in time, through which we define individual and collective selves…”

Memory is

  • omnipresent
  • situated in social frameworks (family, nation)
  • enabled by changing media technologies (recording, internet)
  • confronted with cultural institutions (memorials, museums)
  • shaped by political circumstances.

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Friedrich Nietzsche. “On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life.”

74
To determine ‘the boundary at which the past has to be forgotten if it is not to become the gravedigger of the present’ one has to know the human power to develop and transform both the individual and the collective self.

Karl Mannheim. “The Sociological Problem of Generations.”

93
‘If society is to continue, social remembering is just as important as forgetting and action starting from scratch.’

‘All psychic and cultural data only really exist in so far as they are produced and reproduced in the present: hence past experience is only relevant when it exists concretely incorporated in the present.’

95
‘Members of a generation are “similarly located”…as they all are exposed to the same phase of the collective process…. what does create a similar location is that they are in a position to experience the same events and data…and especially that these experiences impinge upon a similarly “stratified” consciousness…. Only where contemporaries are definitely in a position to participate as an integrated group in a certain common experiences can we rightly speak of community of location of a generation.’

98
‘a generation as an actuality is constituted when similarly “located” contemporaries participate in a common destiny and in the ideas and concepts which are in some way bound up with its unfolding.’

Generation units = involve both ‘a loose participation by a number of individuals in a pattern of events shared by all alike though interpreted by the different individuals differently’ and ‘an identity of responses, a certain affinity in the way in which all move with and are formed by their common experiences.’

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Theodor Adorno. “In Memory of Eichendorff.”

111
‘In a culture that has been resurrected on a false basis, one’s relation to the cultural past is poisoned. Love for the past is frequently accompanied by resentment toward the present; by belief in the possession of a heritage that one loses the moment one imagines it cannot be lost; by a feeling of comfort in familiar things that have been handed down and under whose aegis those whose complicity helped pave the way for the horror hope to escape it.’

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Lev Vygotsky. Mind in Society.

115
‘The very essence of human memory consists in the fact that human beings actively remember with the help of signs…. the very essence of civilization consists of purposely building monuments so as not to forget.’

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Emile Durkheim. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life.

136
‘The mythology of a group is the system of beliefs common to this group. The rite serves…to sustain the vitality of these beliefs, to keep them from being effaced from memory, and…to revivify the most essential elements of the collective consciousness. Through it, the group periodically renews the sentiment which it has of itself and of its unity; at the same time, individuals are strengthened in their social natures. The glorious souvenirs which are made to live again before their eyes, and with which they feel that they have a kinship, give them a feeling of strength and confidence: a man is surer in his faith when he sees to how distant a past it goes back and what great things it has inspired.’

‘a whole group of ceremonies whose sole purpose is to awaken certain ideas and sentiments, to attach the present to the past or the individual to the group.’

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Maurice Halbwachs. The Collective Memory.

144
‘The memory of a society extends as far as the memory of the groups composing it…. the groups keeping these remembrances fade away…. since social memory erodes at the edges as individual members, especially older ones, become isolated or die, it is constantly transformed along with the group itself.’

145
‘The totality of past events can be put together in a single record [as history] only by separating them from the memory of the groups who preserved them and by severing the bonds that held them close to the psychological life of the social milieus where they occurred…’

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Marc Bloch. “Memoire collective, tradition et coutume: A propos d’un livre recent.”

152
‘in the collective memory, the conditions of the present give rise to somewhat imperfect notions of the past. The collective memory, like the individual memory, does not preserve the past precisely; it is constantly reconstructing and reformulating in light of the present. Remembering is always a process.’

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Roger Bastide. The African Religions of Brazil: Toward a Sociology of the Interpenetration of Civilizations.

157-8
‘Rite is encaged in the matrix of muscular capacity; its range is narrowly limited by the body. The scope of myth, on the other hand, is the almost infinite one of the creative imagination.’

‘Myth now survives only through its connection with ritual. In passing from one generation to the next…it has lost its original richness of detail and been reduced to a mere explanation of certain actions.’

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Edward Casey. Remembering: A Phenomenological Study.

185
‘If commemoration has everything to do with participation—if its functional essence is to solicit and sustain participation between commemorators and that to which they pay homage, often by means of co-participation in special communities and just as often by sharing in commemorabilia [material or psychical media through which we remember] through which the commemorandum [the commemorated object, person, or event] is made present—then by the same token commemoration has to do with overcoming the separation from which otherwise unaffiliated individuals suffer…. commemoration suggests that such separation is a sham. The commemorators are already deeply conjoined, bonded at the most profound level.’

‘commemoration promotes participation even as it thrives on it. Commemorating…calls on us in our strictly social being.’

‘Commemorating also creates new forms of sociality, new modes of interconnection: between past and present, self and other, one group and another, one form of thinking or acting or speaking and another… In these ways commemorating brings about “a mystical community of essence between beings,” constituting a shared identity more lasting and more significant than would be possible in an uncommemorated existence. Commemorating does more than pay tribute to honorable actions undertaken in the past and at another place. It constructs the space, and continues the time, in which the commendably inter-human will be perduringly appreciated. Rather than looking back only, commemoration concerns itself with “what, lasting, comes toward us.”‘

186
“the commemorating may itself serve to prolong the ending [something that is ending], giving to it (and its origin) a species of after-life.”

“commemorating…is capable of transforming something [frozen in time] into a re-living presence, alive in the minds and bodies of its commemorators. In mourning, the dead or absent other is transmogrified into an active internal presence; thus something that has come to an end in terms of world-time acquires an ongoing ending in and through commemoration. Insofar as such ending is not yet concluded, it will be going on in the future. Commemorating here exhibits its Janusian ability to look at once forward and backward: or more exactly to look ahead in looking back…”

“commemoration is a way of coming to terms with ending”

Commemoration consists of action that carries the past forward through the present.

187
“commemorating is an intensified remembering”

“Memory is always memorializing. To remember is to commemorate the past.”

“Commemoration can be considered the laying to account of perishings, the consolidating and continuing of endings. It is the creating of memorializations in the media of ritual, text, and psyche; it enables us to honor the past by carrying it intact into new and lasting forms of alliance and participation.”

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Alan Megill. “History, Memory, Identity.”

194
“when identity becomes uncertain, memory rises in value”

195
“The difference between nostalgia and memory…is that whereas nostalgia is oriented outward from the subject (the individual person, the group), focusing attention on a real or imagined past, memory is oriented toward the subject and is concerned with a real or imagined past only because that past is perceived as crucial for the subject, even constitutive of it.”

196
We “remember the present and think the past”…”that is, we construct or reconstruct it on the basis of certain critical procedures.”

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Jan Assmann. Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism.

210
“History turns into myth as soon as it is remembered, narrated, and used, that is woven into the fabric of the present.”

“memory is not simply the storage of past facts but the ongoing work of reconstructive imagination….the past cannot be stored but always has to be processed and mediated.”

“We are what we remember.”

“the truth of memory lies in the identity that it shapes. This truth is subject to time so that it changes with every new identity and every new present. It lies in the story, not as it happened but as it lives on and unfolds in collective memory….we are the stories that we  are able to tell about ourselves….this narrative is us.”

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Jan Assmann. “Collective Memory and Cultural Identity.”

215
“The concept of cultural memory comprises that body of reusable texts, images, and rituals specific to each epoch, whose “cultivation” serves to stabilize and convey that society’s self-image. Upon such collective knowledge, for the most part of the past, each group bases its awareness of unity and particularity.”

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Peter Berger. Invitation to Sociology: A Humanistic Approach.

217
Henri Bergson: “memory itself is a reiterated act of interpretation. As we remember the past we reconstruct it in accordance with our present ideas of what is important and what is not.”

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Jeffrey K. Olick. “Collective Memory: The Two Cultures.”

228
“mnemonic technologies” = “technologies of memory” – e.g. the museum, archive [monument? memorial?]

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Robert Bellah et al. Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life.

229
“Communities…are constituted by their past.” A real community is “”a community of memory,” one that does not forget its past. In order not to forget that past, a community is involved in retelling its story, its constitutive narrative… The communities of memory that tie us to past also turn us toward the future as communities of hope. They carry a context of meaning that can allow us to connect our aspirations for ourselves with aspirations of a larger whole and see our own efforts as being, in part, contributions to a common good.”

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Anthony Smith. The Ethnic Origin of Nations.

Nostalgia as a

  1. way to manage social change;
  2. way to combat corrosion of individuality, sense of estrangement, homelessness, and meaninglessness characteristic of the capitalist modernity;
  3. way to “achieve a measure of immortality” by linking oneself to “a community of history and destiny”

Ethnic nationalism = “surrogate religion” which links people in “persisting communities whose generations form indissoluble links in a chain of memories and identities.”

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Yael Zerubavel. Recovered Roots: Collective Memory and the Making of Israeli National Tradition

237
“Each act of commemoration reproduces a commemorative narrative, a story about a particular past that accounts for this ritualized remembrance and provides a moral message for the group members….the commemorative narrative differs from the chronicle because it undergoes the process of narrativization [which] blurs the line between the real and the imagined.”

“Each commemoration reconstructs a specific segment of the past and is therefore fragmentary in nature. Yet these commemorations together contribute to the formation of a master commemorative narrative that structures collective memory.”

238
“Collective memory [offers] a system of periodization that imposes a certain order on the past….this periodization involves a dialogue between the past and the present, as the group reconstructs its own history from a current ideological stance….collective memory divides the past into major stages, reducing complex historical events to basic plot structures. The power of collective memory [lies] in establishing basic images that articulate and reinforce a particular ideological stance.”

239
“Remembering and forgetting are…closely interlinked in the construction of collective memory….”

“The master commemorative narrative presents [certain particular] events as turning points that changed the course of the group’s historical development and hence are commemorated in great emphasis and elaboration.”

240
“Like other rites of passage, the commemoration of these turning points is imbued with sacredness but also with tensions.”

countermemory = “alternative commemorative narrative that directly opposes the master commemorative narrative, operating under and against its hegemony…stands in hostile and subversive relation to collective memory. If the master commemorative narrative attempts to suppress alternative views of the past, the countermemory in turn denies the validity of the narrative constructed by the collective memory and presents its own claim for a more accurate representation of history.”

241
“The master commemorative narrative represents the political elite’s construction of the past….Countermemory challenges this hegemony by offering a divergent commemorative narrative representing the views of marginalised individuals or groups within the society. The commemoration of the past can thus become a contested territory…”

“Countermemory…can be part of a different commemorative framework forming an alternative overview of the past that stands in opposition to the hegemonic one.”

“Acts of commemoration recharge collective memory and allow for its transformation.”

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Barry Schwartz. Abraham Lincoln and the Forge of American Memory.

244
“humans, because of their psychological constitution, cannot live without attachment to some object that transcends and survives them…”

“Connecting past events to one another and to the events of the present, collective memory is part of culture’s meaning-making apparatus.”

Clifford Geertz: defines culture as “an organization of symbolic patterns on which people rely to make sense of their experience. Articulating a symbolic pattern of commemoration, memory becomes a meaning-conferring cultural system. Collective memory, like all cultural systems, is a pattern of ‘inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic form by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about attitudes toward life.'”

245
“As a model of society, collective memory reflects past events in terms of the needs, interests, fears, and aspirations of the present. As a model for society, collective memory performs two functions: it embodies a template that organizes and animates behavior and a frame within which people locate and find meaning for their present experience. Collective memory affects social reality by reflecting, shaping, and framing it.”

246
“The present is constituted by the past, but hte past’s retention, as well as its reconstruction, must be anchored in the present.”

247
“The past, then, is a familiar rather than a foreign country, its people different but not strangers to the present.”

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Popular Memory Group. “Popular Memory: Theory, Politics, Method.”

256
“A knowledge of past and present is also produced in the course of everyday life. Such knowledge may circulate, usually without amplification [by public media] in everyday talk and in personal comparisons and narratives. It may even be recorded in certain intimate cultural forms: letters, diaries, photograph albums and collections of things with past associations….Usually this history is held to the level of private remembrance.”

257
“Private memories cannot…be readily unscrambled from the effects of dominant historical discourses. Memories of the past are…strangely composite constructions, resembling a kind of geology, the selective sedimentation of past traces.”

“Memory is, by definition, a term which directs our attention not to the past but to the past-present relation. It is because “the past” has this living active existence in the present that it matters so much politically.”

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Richard Sennett. “Disturbing Memories.”

286
“people do not remember well because the modern economy does not encourage it….the shortness of economic time seems to result in [a] sense of insignificance. Defense lies…in narratives which empower the remembering subject, and this private empowerment is an act in which people can collectively collude.”

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Michael Schudson. “The Past in the Present versus the Present in the Past.”

289
“The past becomes part of us; and shapes us, it influences our consciousness…”

“There is, in particular, great power to originating events, the character of “founding fathers,” or constitutional documents.”

“people’s mental life lives in the past. A person is constituted by a train of events and experiences.”

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Aleida Assmann. “Canon and Archive.”

334
“When thinking about memory, we must start with forgetting.”

Forms of forgetting:

  1. Active = trashing, destroying, censorship
  2. Passive = losing, hiding, dispersing, neglecting, abandoning, leaving behind

335
Forgetting = normal, remembering = exception

337
“In order to remember anything, one has to forget…”

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Marianne Hirsch. “The Generation of Postmemory.”

347
“Postmemory describes the relationship that the generation after those who witnessed cultural or collective trauma bears to the experiences of those who came before, experiences that they “remember” only by means of stories, images, and behaviors among which they grew up. But these experiences were transmitted to them so deeply and affectively as to seem to constitute memories in their own right. Postmemory’s connection to the past is thus not actually mediated by recall but by imaginative investment, projection and creation.”