Research output: Chapter in Book/Entry/PoemForeword/postscript

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"Public memory" has become a familiar key term in the humanities and social sciences. The last twenty years have seen a rapid proliferation of the term's use in such disciplines as architecture' communication studies' English' history' philosophy' political science' religion' rhetoric' and sociology. The rapid growth in the transdisciplinary study of public memory can also be seen in the number of published case studies and the amount of material encompassed within this rubric' from monuments to television programs and museums to city streets.1 Some sense of public memory is evident in human civilization as far back as we can reckon.2 Recognition of the importance of collective remembrance is clearly part of the pyramids of ancient Egypt' for instance' or the eulogies of ancient Greece. In part the systematic study of collective memories can be traced to the work of French sociologist Maurice Halbwachs in the 1920s. Halbwachs' following Durkheim's notion of collective conscience' contends that all acts of memory are inherently social-literally that to remember is to act as part of the collective. In turn our collectivity is deeply intertwined with our capacity for and enactment of remembrance. Halbwachs's insights' however' were largely underappreciated until the rapid development of public memory studies in the 1980s and 1990s.3 The present volume is an intervention into the broad and rapidly expanding transdisciplinary study of public memory. By bringing together scholars from various disciplines' Framing Public Memory seeks to promote a broader reflection on the current state of public memory studies and a consideration of some of the pressing questions to which future students of public memory might protably attend. To this end' the collected essays sketch the frameworks of public memory' frameworks I will consider in more detail presently. Although the current volume does not focus on the development of public memory studies' a brief review of this development may be useful. The relatively sudden rise in the study of public memory had numerous causes. A thorough analysis of the conditions leading to its growth is beyond the scope of this introduction and' indeed' unnecessary as the task has been taken up by others. It is' however' worth noting at least one of the most pervasive contexts within which this recent interest in public memory has emerged-the increasing mistrust of "ofcial History."4 A distinction between memory and history is evident as far back as Halbwachs' who saw history and memory as opposing ways of recalling the past. History' with its apparent claims to accuracy and objectivity' is- or at least had been-viewed as implying a singular and authentic account of the past.5 Memory' on the other hand' is conceived in terms of multiple' diverse' mutable' and competing accounts of past events. As claims to a singular authoritative "History" became increasingly (and rightly) untenable in the face of compelling critiques leveled by poststructural and multicultural critics' scholars turned to the notion of memory' or perhaps more accurately "memories'" as a way of understanding the complex interrelationships among past' present' and future. Memory' thus' is conceived as fluid and dynamic or' as Pierre Nora puts it' "Memory is life' borne out of living societies founded in its name. It remains in permanent evolution' open to the dialectic of remembering and forgetting' unconscious of its successive deformations' vulnerable to manipulation and appropriation' susceptible to being long dormant and periodically revived."6 This sense of "living" memory is in stark contrast to a sense of a xed' singular history' suggesting that societies are both constituted by their memories and' in their daily interactions' rituals' and exchanges' constitute these memories. As well' this sense of memory highlights the extent to which these constituted and constituting memories are open to contest' revision' and rejection. Thus' in a very real sense' to speak of memory in this way is to speak of a highly rhetorical process. Indeed' the study of memory is largely one of the rhetoric of memories. The ways memories attain meaning' compel others to accept them' and are themselves contested' subverted' and supplanted by other memories are essentially rhetorical. As an art interested in the ways symbols are employed to induce cooperation' achieve understanding' contest understanding' and offer dissent' rhetoric is deeply steeped in a concern for public memories.7 These memories that both constitute our sense of collectivity and are constituted by our togetherness are thus deeply implicated in our persuasive activities and in the underlying assumptions and experiences upon which we build meanings and reasons. The reader interested in either rhetoric or public memory will' therefore' nd in this volume a wealth of resources for thinking about the interrelation of these concepts. Although many of the contributors to this volume are not rhetoricians per se' there is a consistent concern for the ways that memories attain meaning and become public-two concerns central to the study of rhetoric. Of course' it would be inappropriate to dismiss the various disciplinary approaches represented here. Indeed' one of the strengths of this collection is its interdisciplinary nature. Thus' a reader might approach this volume as a collection of essays from prominent scholars from different disciplinary frameworks all focused on the notion of public memory. Taken this way' the volume represents an effort to foster an interdisciplinary dialogue on the notion of public memory and an opportunity to survey the various ways public memories are manifested and the ways they might be interrogated and understood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationFraming Public Memory
PublisherThe University of Alabama Press
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)9780817354909
StatePublished - 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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