COLLECTIVE MEMORY AND COLLECTIVE IDENTITY / Vol. 75, No. 1 (Spring 2008)
Arien Mack, Editor
William Hirst, Guest Co-Editor
Since Maurice Halbwachs first wrote about the phenomenon, the study of collective memory has played a critical role in discussions of collective and, in particular, national identity. Students of collective memory have chiefly been interested in the memory practices a community undertakes to maintain publicly available symbols of the past, with memorials and commemorations, along with the practices of the media, art, and education, and other cultural political institutions. This issue provides a set of papers that give the reader a sense of the current state of thinking about collective memory and identity.
Part I: What Does It Mean for A Community to Have a Memory?
Jeffrey K. Olick The Ciphered Transits of Collective Memory: Neo-Freudian Impressions In dialogue with Freud, Assmann and others have sought to show that there are “unconscious” elements in cultures as well as in individuals and thus to theorize the “unconscious” aspect of memory at the level of the collectivity. In turn, I draw on this work to show that these unconscious elements shape horizons of understanding whereby speakers might deploy the same tropes in defense not only of their solitary egos, but of cultural identities more generally. Cultural memory is born of collective identity, constitutes it in time, and in turn serves it, though usually not in straightforwardly instrumentalist ways. As such, Assmann’s theory provides a corrective to the voluntarist implications of Renan and to the presentist implications with which Maurice Halbwachs founded the contemporary study of “collective memory” (although I will also argue that Assmann overstates the opposition of his “cultural” understanding of memory to Halbwachs’ more sociological emphasis).
The article discusses the psychological and sociological processes involved in the development from individual cognitive memories to collective memory in the formation of group identities. A multidisciplinary approach from neurology, sociology, and cultural studies is employed in order to understand the relationships between personal memories and collective perceptions. The role of emotion, agency, and language is discussed as causative factors in the formation of memory. Details are provided regarding the dynamics of social communication and exchanges, collaborative recall, and transactive memory.
The article discusses the nature of collective memory in relation to the transition from individual memory to the social group. The article describes how collective memory paradigms are difficult to quantify since individual memories are immediately connected to an embodied mind whereas collective memories have little connection to the physical world. The article explores the concrete ways collective memory can be expressed, including the communication of semantic and episodic memory. Details are provided regarding social frameworks, social constructivism, group identity, and multiculturalism.
Part II: What Are the Means Through Which Community Shapes Its Memory?
The national holiday is one of ceremony’s vessels; holidays oppose the natural tendency to forget the past. Two analytic models orient the analysis of holiday rituals and their link to collective memory. The “conflict model” conceives ritual observances in terms of elites’ quest to maintain power, whereas the “commitment model” presumes that elites and masses reaffirm their moral values together. At question is whether the concepts comprising the conflict and commitment models are sufficient to capture the meaning and function of most holidays. This article takes Presidents’ Day, America’s most peculiar holiday, as an example to explore this question, asking whether Presidents’ Day constitutes a readjustment to or an erosion of the tradition of whih its original object, George Washington, is part.
The article discusses the effect of technological changes in photography on the collective memory of society. The article describes how photographs were used to establish concrete measurements of the past in order to construct memories and existential meaning. With the advent of digital photography and manipulation techniques, the sense of photographs as a legitimate repository of the past is being called into question. Details are provided regarding cognitive perception, social consciousness, and constructivism. Also discussed are phenomenological approaches to photographs, positivism, and the tension between subjectivity and objectivity in the interpretation of memory.
The article discusses the 2006 civil unrest in Tallinn, Estonia in order to illustrate the role of collective memory and cultural narratives in the formation of ethnic identities. The article describes how Russian-Estonians rioted in response to a government decision to move the Bronze Soldier statue from the central square to a military cemetery. The move sparked ethnic and nationalistic tensions derived from events during World War II. The article focuses on the symbolic aspects of the statue in regard to its role in stirring nationalist, religious, and fascist feelings. Details are provided regarding the the role of vocabulary, narrative templates, and historical memory.
The article discusses the relationship between food and collective memory. The article describes how food can play a significant normative in the creation of social order and identity, in that food can be a social mediator of relationships, a symbol of identity, and a mark of difference in ethnicity, gender, class, or race. The article focuses on the role of food in the island community of Kalymnos, Greece. Details are provided regarding food's significance as a gift and its importance in religious ritual. Also discussed is food's role in the shaping of the episodic, semantic, and bodily/habit memory types.
Part III: How Are Collective Memories Formed?
Problems of memory are salient in today’s world: struggles by present-day Germans to face the atrocities of the Holocaust, by South Africans to confront the legacy of apartheid, or by East Europeans to deal with those who collaborated with the former communist regimes. IN each instance, at stake is the form a collective memory of a problematic past takes and the way this memory shapes and reshapes present and future collective identity. Solutions to these problems of memory may not be readily forthcoming, but the questions that need to be addressed are well appreciated, including: How are collective memories formed, shaped, reshaped, forgotten, and renewed? How can one discuss collective memory in a way that encompasses diverse situations while remaining meaningful? Are there constraints on the power of communities to restructure collective memories? And what is the relation between the memories of individuals and the collective memories held by the community?
The article discusses the aspects of European identity. The article describes how the impulse to unify the peoples of Europe both politically and socially is a daunting task due to the diversity of ethnicities and competing collective memories. The article presents different ways a foundational identity can be formed, including the memory of Nazi socio-nationalism as a negative founding myth, the memory of soviet-style communism as narrative that speaks against totalitarianism, and the memory of Europe as a continent of immigration. Details are provided regarding Turkey's role in the formation of a unified European identity, along with a discussion of Turkey's democratization.
Part IV: How Does A Collective Memory Bear on Collective Identity?
Should Europeans share memories? Each of the European nations has accumulated a stockpile of tales and myths that allow its citizens to act in solidarity within set boundaris. What, then, does that imply for a united Europe? Anyone who wishes to bestow a collective identity on European society must consider the discussion and recognition of disputed memories to be as important, say, as treaties, a common currency, and open borders. If we want to give this attempt against a renationalization of memory a chance, we must display the anchor points of supra- and transnational memory as concentric circles, and tie them to specific dates and locations, starting with January 27, 1945 in Auchwitz.
The article discusses the role of memory in transmitting responsibilities and commitments from the past. The article describes how memory serves to remind people of the responsibilities acquired and promises made that direct actions and projects in the present. Using philosophers John Locke and Friedrich Nietzsche as references, the article explores notions of conative memory that constrains the pursuit of current actions. It then discusses the role of conative memory in the formation of collective memories and identities. Details are provided regarding Locke's conception of personhood, understanding, and the will, along with a discussion of Nietzsche's philosophical anthropology.
The article discusses the processes involved in handing down memories of the Nazi Holocaust from one generation to the next. The article analyses the memories of German families in order to understand the nature of historical consciousness. It examines personal interviews, letters, and family symbols in order to illustrate the attitudes, experiences, and behaviors of parents and grandparents as they passed information on to their offspring. The research concludes that family members pass down idealized portraits of themselves to their family in order to exculpate the family name from involvement in Holocaust crimes.
The article discusses the aspects of identity changes in reference to the 1903 Kishinev pogrom in Russia. The article describes how Kishinev orphans were transported to Jerusalem and underwent an identity change from Russian Jews to native Zionists. The transformation reflects the Zionist Yishuv, or "Settlement," period in which Jews attempted to form a distinct identity in support of a nationalist agenda. The article analyzes the agenda in order to understand the processes involved in shaping collective memory and identity. Details are provided regarding Jewish Bedouin, the fellahin Arab farmers, and the Zionist youth movements Hashomer and Palmach.