History and memoryare far from coterminous; memory is defined in terms of remembering andforgetting. History is regarded as a more academic practice, more deeply rootedin evidence derived from empirical reality with scientific sanctions placed onit. The relationship between history and memory are inextricably linked.
If weaccept that historical events were experienced by individuals, then me mustaccept the evidence of memory as a prism for attributing lived experience.Memory is not the opposite of history as Pierre Nora claims but a moreconvincing argument put forward by Peter Burke is that memory is part of thehistorical consciousness.1 The ability of the mind to retain, repress andremember ‘memories’ is not something historians should shy away from; a tool ofthe modern historian is to unthread memory from events in order to build a morecomplete picture. If we tease apart, the perplex relationship between memoryand history, it shows they inform one another. Memory is vital to understanding events, by recreatingthe mindset of individuals we can sometimes explain history that seemed unexplainable,achieving more than facts alone. Memory is subjective. To some, acritique is it fails to have total unbiased opnion; yet it is these subjectivismsthat add richness to history.
To any individual their memory is their truth,fabricated or not this does not mean it loses credibility. It is credible inits own right. Often historians processing oral and memory history putthemselves into their work, the fear of using ‘I’ in history means analysisisn’t subjective. However, it is these subjectivisms that adds a depth ofinterest into their works. By allowing historians to place themselves, with livedexperience into history, a human dimension and vulnerability is exposed,something as humans we connect with; without it history is hollow. This essay, thereforewill analyze three seminal texts in the development of history and memory,Penny Summerfield’s ‘Reconstructing women’s war time lives’, Peter Fritzscheand ‘The case of modern memory’ and finally the work of Sigurõur Magnússon’s’Gender: a useful category in the analysis of Ego-documents?’. My thesis isborn out of all three texts; Memory, I will argue is a phenomenon emanating outof a modern society, it functions as a consecration of thoughts and personalreflections due to the real environments of memory having disappeared. Therelationship between history and memory is therefore the ability of history touncover these truths, and for memory to recover them from the mind.
The uniqueand precious element of memory is that it is not a depository of fact, but anactive process of creation of meanings. Methodologically, memory is demanding. It raises complex theoreticalquestions by delving into psychoanalytical analysis which need to be assessedat a face value. The rise in memory as a category of analysis for historians isa product of the 1970s, the reason for this is multifarious. Induced by a risein social conflict, protest, student led demonstrations; this can be seen as acultural turn.
Inevitably the Holocaust and a ‘duty to remember’ has shaped aEuropean collective memory, where memory crystallizes becomes a site of memory,remnants of experience live on. How individuals remember events, as Pierre Noradescribes ‘ruptures the collective memory’2and this is where individual memory begins. This has set a poition for PeterFritzsche ‘The Case of modern memory’3which cleverly analyses Pierre Nora’s volumes Les lieux de mémoire as a backbone into the study of metaphorically,the past. Fritzsche’s focus is based on the imagination of a collective butimperiled national past bounded in time and space. An added dimension of timeinto history and memory serves as a boundary to the study, Yosef Yerushalmi is particularly interested in time and history andhow ‘not everything of value that existed before a break was either salvaged ormetamorphosed, but was lost, and that often some of what fell wayside became,through our retrieval, meaningful to us’4.
Asmodern day thinkers we are subservient to our self-conscious need to rememberwhat no longer exists, although Pierre Nora would argue memory and historyappear ‘fundamental oppositions’5, Fritzschemay argue that the innovation of modernity is not only to see the complexity ofhistory, but also the ability of memory to simplify. Here memory and historyare transgressed into something new. Richard Terdiman stresses this relationshipis due to loss, this ‘is what makes our memory of the past possible at all’6, traumafor Fritzsche is therefore a category of analysis for memory. In the modern daywe have been exposed to global pain that has inevitably left footprints in ourimagination.
Fritzsche see’s modern warfare as ‘a potent generator of memories’7,the innovation of memory relies on this identification with loss,self-reflection and self-awareness and Fritzsche therefore presents his casethat modern memory is born out of our developed sense of ourselves. A personalnarrative analysis strengthens the idea of identity. Our reliance on what Freudsees as a balance between the ID and ego is what creates our sociallyconstructed perspective on ourselves. The study of history and memory deepensthe levels of what can be understood of ourselves, based on our past. Cathy Caruth’s definition that ‘the termtrauma is understood as a wound inflicted not on the body but the mind’8,this wound Caruth describes is not something that ever completely heals. Thememory of this trauma is revisited, opened and closed when memories arerevisited, this means memories are never left untouched, which is a critic ofmemory studies. As much as they absorb the memory they absorb the tidal wavesaround it. Fritzsche overlooks this critic, and still sees memory as the vitalasset to history, much like Summerfield and Magnusson.
Fritzsche sees therelationship between history and memory as ‘narrative systems designed tofashion active subjects’9 is perhaps Fritzscherecognising that memories are not ‘shaped in a vacuum, the motives of memoryare never pure’10. Our memories areindividualistic. Although Fritzsche shows an awareness that the story ofhistory and memory can never be this linear, scholars have often rejected memoryas a tool of the historian. Most memory studies have a particular focus onexpanding the understanding of one event and as a result the wealth of newinsight has a particular focus; yethistorical cultures can never be unanimously linked to specific socialcollectives and their historical consciousness. This methodological problem is elevatedbecause of the tendency to use psychological terminology, which can lead tomisinterpretation of what collective memory is.
Even so, the unique combinationof social relevance and intellectual challenge justifies the need of memory asa category of analysis. Collective memory, arguably is not history. It grasps similarmaterial but it is as much a result of our conscious molds as unconsciousabsorption.
A theme, that in a sense, haunts memory studies especially forFritzsche and Magnusson is that there is a gap between individual memories and’public’ forms of remembering. Which is all the more reason that memory adds tohistory, rather than limits it. The study helps provide a framework andunderstanding to events, perhaps this evolution is to theoretical for some scholarsto accept. But it is my position that by understanding our past, we are betterable to understand our future. Without memory, history is understood in itspurest form; mapping out events, memory’s duty is therefore how to make senseand understanding of those events.Eric Hobsbawmclaims ‘The problem for historians is to analyze the nature of this “senseof the past” in society and to trace its changes and transformations’11,as human beings we live with a constant sense of the past. Our consciousness ispermeated with tradition, history from below, folk law and therefore memory issomething that connects all societies but is also independent to differentnations.
Hobsbawm is correct when he states it is problem for historians, butmemory is more than just a pattern in which we reproduce between each generation.Memory serves to educate, and by this I mean memory is not a problem, as such,but a discovery of symbolic reality. Michael Bernard-Donals makes the case that ‘memory and forgetfulnessare facets of the same phenomenon of understanding; the occurrence of eventsbegins interminably to recede into an inaccessible past’12.This is convincing as my thesis implies that memory relies on not only what isretold first hand by those who were there, but it is also impacted by theshockwaves; secondary, perhaps the excess to the event.
This symbolic realityis therefore the way in which memory and history have withstood the test oftime. Here we assess memory in a different form, one that shapes collectivemyths, folk law and nation identity. Magnússon in his ‘Gender: Auseful category in the analysis of Ego-Documents?’ attempts to differentiatememories made by men and women in order to find a causal link between amasculine national identity and the way different genders ‘remember’. Memory inIceland has been shaped by a homogenous, patriarchal society where masculineideals have shaped folk law, heroinism and fairy tales. Here, unlike Fritzsche,who is looking at how memories are made and why in a modern world we remembermainly traumatic experience, Magnússon’s focus is different. Correspondingly, inthe backdrop to Joan Scott’s celebrated article ‘Gender: a useful category ofhistorical analysis’13which has aided gender expression and influenced Magnusson’s findings in onenation, he analysis’s women as a subaltern category, something PennySummerfield has also focused on. For Magnússon when analyzing autobiographicaltexts which are supposedly an opening into our lives and personality, he foundfor women they still wrote in a domain, ‘constrained and rigidly prescribed bylaw and ultimately came under the domain of men’14Suggesting that women’s memory had been penetrated so deeply by masculine influencethat they felt even works on themselves had to be constrained by laws the keptthem in separate spheres.
Maurice Halbwach saw that memories are constructed bysocial groups, It is’individuals who remember, in the literal, physical sense, but it is socialgroups who determine what is ‘memorable”15. It is notimplausible to argue that women in the ninetieth century lacked life experiencedue to the glass ceiling above them and therefore simply did not have theability to reflect on their own life experience. However a more convincingargument is that ‘collective memory was so weak that extra space was freed upto be filled by the other two forms in which memory manifests…individual memoryand historical memory’16.This harnessing of literary ancient culture pervaded the memory of both men andwomen; the ‘saga world’ populated by heroes created individual memory thatbecame part of everyone’s consciousness.
Mary Vincent17strengthens this argument, as in the case of the memory of the Spanish civilwar, some of the most important legacies left behind by the dictatorship; onebeing the problematic attitude to Spanish national identity, especially amongthe Spanish elites remains imprinted on the collective memory. . Our sometimes,unconscious sense of the past, can alter our memories. For women in Iceland, Maggússonshows autobiographical texts ‘give shape to their own memories in a dynamicinteraction with the historical memory’18,initially women as Maggússon argues, had a political struggle for theirmemories to even fit into this grand national narrative yet the forms ofego-documents have aided and revolutionized self-expression of the sexestherefore ‘allotting a much more important role in historical analysis’. Therelationship between history and memory here evades not only the self-reflectionof identity but also how memory can empower women, a common theme in feministand memory works.Penny Summerfield also placeswomen under the magnifying glass when it comes to memory through the process oforal history.
Peter Burke states a ‘historian’s function is to be the custodian of thememory of public’19, thisis the role Summerfield takes on as she uncovers a new theoretical feministnarrative of forty two women’s experience during world war two. Here memory isindividual, whereas Fritzsche focuses on collective memory, Summerfield isfocusing on how individual memory can function in a collective. AlessardroPorteli states that ‘oral history has no unified subject; it is told from amultitude of points of view, and the impartiality traditionally claimed byhistorians is replaced by the partiality of the narrator’20, thiscontested tool of a historian is vital to the relationship between history andmemory. The role of a historian is to uncover truth’s; oral history can neverbe told without taking sides. Summerfield recognises that she places herselfinto her work, this autobiographical tone represents a shift from what Magnussonsees in women’s ego-documents. Rather than women placing themselves outside ofeven their own stories, now in a new feminist discourse and through the use oforal history, memory is empowering to women.
The relationship between bothmemory and history here is where the narrator not only recalls the past butasserts their interpretation of the past. Summerfield’s identification withpoststructuralism has led to her evaluation of oral history and to investigatesubjectivities. The constructing of popular memory, Summerfield argues, isexpressed when we reconstruct our lives, we compose stories that ‘smooth out contradictory and fractured discourses in relation to anaudience.’21When a narrator is thus allowed to explore the ways in which culturaldiscourses and personal memory intersect one another, a new narrative ofhistory and memory is exposed. Fritzsche analysis of trauma also presents howindividual memory can feed into a collective responsibility, the pressure tomaintain a unified narrative of an event is in danger of losing its personalmeaning to each individual. It is therefore ‘necessary to encompass within oral historyanalysis and interpretation, not only the voice that speaks for itself, but alsothe voices that speak to it’22. InSummerfield’s case this is exposing that what was once rejoiced as a triumphfor women, the war actually limited the advancement of women’s rights and eveninto the 1970s the war continued a long-standing custom of women’ssubordination to men, if anything it reinforced gender differentiation.
Herethe relationship between memory and history delves into a parallel analysis.For Summerfield’s participants the burden of making events ‘fit’ into apositive national rhetoric is turned on its head and through oral history theyhave opened up an entirely new cultural framework, in which is vital to historyas a discipline. One of the many strengths of this book is that it allows thestudy of both femininity and masculinity into the framework of oral history and’history from below’. Intuitively, most of us are sensitive to social class andstatus and therefore the ability of oral history to work in a sense, bottom up,interest us. Her theology of women as either ‘heroes’ or ‘stoics’ may be overlyrigid and unified for some yet I am inclined to agree with Elizabeth Tonkin;’oral accounts of past events are also guides to the future’23. Oralityis the basic human mode of communication and although not every woman of thewar may fit into these category’s, what Summerfield has achieved by giving purposefulnessto social action, a voice to those unheard, despite the category’s Summerfieldplaces them into, she has teased apart memory and history and shown how bothrely on one another. In principle, oral history can extend toward everyhistorical field.
It provides an avenue which makes memory and historyinterlinked with personal and social connections but also brings other disciplinesin touch with one another. This web of knowledge gives history ‘back to thepeople in their own words’24, and achance to make their own memory and history.As my thesis argues, history and memory are allies, as much as historylooks to the past it must also use these lessons in order to shape the future. Ashumans we have horrific memories, what weremember about the past can be clouded by our own biases and what we forgetthrough the passage of time. History has its own limitations, but through peerreview and the process of creating a hypothesis it possesses an ability memorydoes not; correction.
Therefore, both memory and history need one another,memory in a way has become a sub-branch of history they are not totallyoppositional realms of knowledge production. When these works stand alone, theyrepresent fields of study stimulated by the question of memory and history as anew breadth of knowledge. Their effectiveness when brought together multiples. Theysignify similar conclusions based on the creation of self-identity, the empowermentof memory study on subaltern categories and the creation of collective memory.
Theworks themselves also represent different generational findings, therefore highlightingthat no matter when memory and history are studied, the findings follow apattern, adding credibility and scientifically value to this field of study.Together they therefore reinforce the essence of memory study and itsimportance on being linked to history. Ultimately, this study is perplexing,yet these works reinforce the important we have in reflecting on our past and learningabout the future. 1Peter Burke, Varieties ofcultural history (New York, 1997).2Pierre Nora, Realms of Memory: Rethinking the French Past (New York, 1996).3 Peter Fritzsche, ‘The Case of Modern Memory’, The Journal of Modern History 73.
1 (2001).4 Yosef Yerushalmi, Zakhor:Jewish History and Jewish Memory (New York, 1982), p.91. 5 Pierre Nora, Realms of Memory (New York, 1996).
6 Richard Terdiman, PresentModernity and the Past Memory Crisis (London, 1993). p126.7 Peter Fritzsche, ‘The Case of Modern Memory’ (2001). p.54.
8Cathy Caruth, Trauma:Explorations in Memory (Baltimore and London, 1995).9 Peter Fritzsche, ‘The Case of Modern Memory’, The Journal ofModern History 73.1 (2001).10 James Young, The Textures of Memory (Yale University, 1993) p. 2. 11 Eric Hobsbawm, ‘The social function of the past – some questions’, Pastand Present 55 (1972), pp.
3-17. 12 Michael Bernard-Donals, Forgetful Memory (2009, New York) p.53.13 For a deeper analysis of gender and identity see J. W. Scott,’Women in The Making of the English Working Class’ Gender and Politics ofHistory (1988) and Joan W.
Scott, ‘Gender: A UsefulCategory of Historical Analysis’, American Historical Review 91 (1986),pp. 1053-75 14Sigurõur Magnússon, ‘Gender: a useful category in the analysis ofEgo-documents?’, Scandinavian Journal of History (2013).15 Maurice Halbwachs (ed.), On Collective Memory (Chicago,1992).16 Ibid. 17 Mary Vincent, Breaking the silence? Memory and oblivion since theSpanish Civil War. In E. Ben-Ze’ev, R.
Ginio, & J. Winter (Eds.), Shadowsof War: A Social History of Silence in the Twentieth Century (pp.
47-67).(Cambridge, 1993)18 Sigurõur Magnússon, ‘Gender: a useful category in the analysis’, (2013).19 Peter Burke, ‘Historyas Social Memory’, Varieties of Cultural History, (Cambridge 1997) pp.43-59.20 Alessandro Portelli, The Battle of Valle Guilia: Oral Historyand the Art of Dialogue (Madison, 1997).21 Penny Summerfield, Reconstructing Women’s war time lives(Manchester, 1998).22 Elizabeth Tonkin, Narrating our Pasts: The Social Constructionof Oral History (Cambridge, 1995).23 Elizabeth Tonkin, Narrating our Pasts (Cambridge, 1995).24 Paul Thompson, ‘The voice of the past’ (Oxford, 1978).