Collective memory

Collective memory

Collective memory is a term coined by Maurice Halbwachs, separating the notion from the individual memory. The collective memory is shared, passed on and also constructed by the group, or modern society. The debate was taken up by Jan Assmann, who wrote Das kulturelle Gedächtnis (The Cultural Memory). More recently scholars such as Paul Connerton have extended the concept to include the human body as a site for the collective processes of retention and propagation of memory. Pierre Nora's contributions to the role of place and spaces of shared memory (the "lieux de memoire" that we all inhabit) are also significant.

Collective Memory and Memorialization

The collective memory of a nation is represented in part by the memorials it chooses to erect. Public memory is enshrined in memorials from the newly opened Holocaust memorial in Berlin to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC. Whatever a nation chooses to memorialize in physical monument, or perhaps more significantly, what not to memorialize, is an indicator of the collective memory.

Collective memory is also sustained through a continuous production of representational forms. In our media age - and maybe particularly during the last decade of increasing digitization - this generates a flow of, and production of, second hand memories (see e.g. James E Young). Particular narratives and images are reproduced and reframed, yet also questioned and contested through new images and so forth. Collective memory today differs much from the collective memories of an oral culture, where no printing technique or transportation contributed to the production of imagined communities (see Benedict Anderson) where we come to share a sense of heritage and commonality with many human beings we have never met - as in the manner a citizen may feel a sort of 'kinship' with people of his nation, region or city.

The concept of collective memory, initially developed by Halbwachs, has been explored and expanded from various angles - a few of these are introduced below.

James E. Young has introduced the notion of 'collected memory' (opposed to collective memory), marking memory's inherently fragmented, collected and individual character, while Jan Assmann develops the notion of 'communicative memory', a variety of collective memory based on everyday communication. This form of memory is similar to the exchanges in an oral culture or the memories collected (and made collective) through oral history. As another subform of collective memories Assmann mentions forms detached from the everyday, it can be particular materialized and fixed points as, e.g. texts and monuments.

The theory of collective memory was also discussed by ex-Hiroshima resident and atomic bomb survivor, Kiyoshi Tanimoto in his tour of the United States as an attempt to rally support and funding for the reconstruction of his Memorial Methodist Church in Hiroshima. He theorized that the use of the atomic bomb had forever been added to the world's collective memory and would serve in the future as a warning against such devices. See John Hersey's Hiroshima novel.

The idea was also discussed more recently in The Celestine Prophecy and subsequent novels written by James Redfield as a continuing process leading to the eventual trancendance of this plane of existence. The idea that a futuristic development of the collective unconscious and collective memories of society allowing for a medium with which one can transcend ones existence is an idea expressed in certain variations of new age religions.

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