History depth of interest into their works. By allowing

History and memory
are far from coterminous; memory is defined in terms of remembering and
forgetting. History is regarded as a more academic practice, more deeply rooted
in evidence derived from empirical reality with scientific sanctions placed on
it. The relationship between history and memory are inextricably linked. If we
accept that historical events were experienced by individuals, then me must
accept the evidence of memory as a prism for attributing lived experience.
Memory is not the opposite of history as Pierre Nora claims but a more
convincing argument put forward by Peter Burke is that memory is part of the
historical consciousness.1 The ability of the mind to retain, repress and
remember ‘memories’ is not something historians should shy away from; a tool of
the modern historian is to unthread memory from events in order to build a more
complete picture. If we tease apart, the perplex relationship between memory
and history, it shows they inform one another. Memory is vital to understanding events, by recreating
the mindset of individuals we can sometimes explain history that seemed unexplainable,
achieving more than facts alone. Memory is subjective. To some, a
critique is it fails to have total unbiased opnion; yet it is these subjectivisms
that 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 in
its own right. Often historians processing oral and memory history put
themselves into their work, the fear of using ‘I’ in history means analysis
isn’t subjective. However, it is these subjectivisms that adds a depth of
interest into their works. By allowing historians to place themselves, with lived
experience into history, a human dimension and vulnerability is exposed,
something as humans we connect with; without it history is hollow. This essay, therefore
will analyze three seminal texts in the development of history and memory,
Penny Summerfield’s ‘Reconstructing women’s war time lives’, Peter Fritzsche
and ‘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 is
born out of all three texts; Memory, I will argue is a phenomenon emanating out
of a modern society, it functions as a consecration of thoughts and personal
reflections due to the real environments of memory having disappeared. The
relationship between history and memory is therefore the ability of history to
uncover these truths, and for memory to recover them from the mind. The unique
and precious element of memory is that it is not a depository of fact, but an
active process of creation of meanings.


Methodologically, memory is demanding. It raises complex theoretical
questions by delving into psychoanalytical analysis which need to be assessed
at a face value. The rise in memory as a category of analysis for historians is
a product of the 1970s, the reason for this is multifarious. Induced by a rise
in social conflict, protest, student led demonstrations; this can be seen as a
cultural turn. Inevitably the Holocaust and a ‘duty to remember’ has shaped a
European collective memory, where memory crystallizes becomes a site of memory,
remnants of experience live on. How individuals remember events, as Pierre Nora
describes ‘ruptures the collective memory’2
and this is where individual memory begins. This has set a poition for Peter
Fritzsche ‘The Case of modern memory’3
which cleverly analyses Pierre Nora’s volumes Les lieux de mémoire as a backbone into the study of metaphorically,
the past.

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Fritzsche’s focus is based on the imagination of a collective but
imperiled national past bounded in time and space. An added dimension of time
into history and memory serves as a boundary to the study, Yosef Yerushalmi is particularly interested in time and history and
how ‘not everything of value that existed before a break was either salvaged or
metamorphosed, but was lost, and that often some of what fell wayside became,
through our retrieval, meaningful to us’4. As
modern day thinkers we are subservient to our self-conscious need to remember
what no longer exists, although Pierre Nora would argue memory and history
appear ‘fundamental oppositions’5, Fritzsche
may argue that the innovation of modernity is not only to see the complexity of
history, but also the ability of memory to simplify. Here memory and history
are transgressed into something new. Richard Terdiman stresses this relationship
is due to loss, this ‘is what makes our memory of the past possible at all’6, trauma
for Fritzsche is therefore a category of analysis for memory. In the modern day
we have been exposed to global pain that has inevitably left footprints in our
imagination. 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 case
that modern memory is born out of our developed sense of ourselves. A personal
narrative analysis strengthens the idea of identity. Our reliance on what Freud
sees as a balance between the ID and ego is what creates our socially
constructed perspective on ourselves. The study of history and memory deepens
the levels of what can be understood of ourselves, based on our past.  Cathy Caruth’s definition that ‘the term
trauma 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. The
memory of this trauma is revisited, opened and closed when memories are
revisited, this means memories are never left untouched, which is a critic of
memory studies. As much as they absorb the memory they absorb the tidal waves
around it. Fritzsche overlooks this critic, and still sees memory as the vital
asset to history, much like Summerfield and Magnusson. Fritzsche sees the
relationship between history and memory as ‘narrative systems designed to
fashion active subjects’9 is perhaps Fritzsche
recognising that memories are not ‘shaped in a vacuum, the motives of memory
are never pure’10. Our memories are
individualistic. Although Fritzsche shows an awareness that the story of
history and memory can never be this linear, scholars have often rejected memory
as a tool of the historian. Most memory studies have a particular focus on
expanding the understanding of one event and as a result the wealth of new
insight has a particular focus; yet
historical cultures can never be unanimously linked to specific social
collectives and their historical consciousness. This methodological problem is elevated
because of the tendency to use psychological terminology, which can lead to
misinterpretation of what collective memory is. Even so, the unique combination
of social relevance and intellectual challenge justifies the need of memory as
a category of analysis. Collective memory, arguably is not history. It grasps similar
material but it is as much a result of our conscious molds as unconscious
absorption. A theme, that in a sense, haunts memory studies especially for
Fritzsche 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 to
history, rather than limits it. The study helps provide a framework and
understanding to events, perhaps this evolution is to theoretical for some scholars
to accept. But it is my position that by understanding our past, we are better
able to understand our future. Without memory, history is understood in its
purest form; mapping out events, memory’s duty is therefore how to make sense
and understanding of those events.

Eric Hobsbawm
claims ‘The problem for historians is to analyze the nature of this “sense
of 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 is
permeated with tradition, history from below, folk law and therefore memory is
something that connects all societies but is also independent to different
nations. Hobsbawm is correct when he states it is problem for historians, but
memory 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 forgetfulness
are facets of the same phenomenon of understanding; the occurrence of events
begins interminably to recede into an inaccessible past’12.
This is convincing as my thesis implies that memory relies on not only what is
retold first hand by those who were there, but it is also impacted by the
shockwaves; secondary, perhaps the excess to the event. This symbolic reality
is therefore the way in which memory and history have withstood the test of
time. Here we assess memory in a different form, one that shapes collective
myths, folk law and nation identity.

Magnússon in his ‘Gender: A
useful category in the analysis of Ego-Documents?’ attempts to differentiate
memories made by men and women in order to find a causal link between a
masculine national identity and the way different genders ‘remember’. Memory in
Iceland has been shaped by a homogenous, patriarchal society where masculine
ideals 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 remember
mainly traumatic experience, Magnússon’s focus is different. Correspondingly, in
the backdrop to Joan Scott’s celebrated article ‘Gender: a useful category of
historical analysis’13
which has aided gender expression and influenced Magnusson’s findings in one
nation, he analysis’s women as a subaltern category, something Penny
Summerfield has also focused on. For Magnússon when analyzing autobiographical
texts which are supposedly an opening into our lives and personality, he found
for women they still wrote in a domain, ‘constrained and rigidly prescribed by
law and ultimately came under the domain of men’14
Suggesting that women’s memory had been penetrated so deeply by masculine influence
that they felt even works on themselves had to be constrained by laws the kept
them in separate spheres. Maurice Halbwach saw that memories are constructed by
social groups, It is
‘individuals who remember, in the literal, physical sense, but it is social
groups who determine what is ‘memorable”15. It is not
implausible to argue that women in the ninetieth century lacked life experience
due to the glass ceiling above them and therefore simply did not have the
ability to reflect on their own life experience. However a more convincing
argument is that ‘collective memory was so weak that extra space was freed up
to be filled by the other two forms in which memory manifests…individual memory
and historical memory’16.
This harnessing of literary ancient culture pervaded the memory of both men and
women; the ‘saga world’ populated by heroes created individual memory that
became part of everyone’s consciousness. Mary Vincent17
strengthens this argument, as in the case of the memory of the Spanish civil
war, some of the most important legacies left behind by the dictatorship; one
being the problematic attitude to Spanish national identity, especially among
the Spanish elites remains imprinted on the collective memory. . Our sometimes,
unconscious sense of the past, can alter our memories. For women in Iceland, Maggússon
shows autobiographical texts ‘give shape to their own memories in a dynamic
interaction with the historical memory’18,
initially women as Maggússon argues, had a political struggle for their
memories to even fit into this grand national narrative yet the forms of
ego-documents have aided and revolutionized self-expression of the sexes
therefore ‘allotting a much more important role in historical analysis’. The
relationship between history and memory here evades not only the self-reflection
of identity but also how memory can empower women, a common theme in feminist
and memory works.

Penny Summerfield also places
women under the magnifying glass when it comes to memory through the process of
oral history. Peter Burke states a ‘historian’s function is to be the custodian of the
memory of public’19, this
is the role Summerfield takes on as she uncovers a new theoretical feminist
narrative of forty two women’s experience during world war two. Here memory is
individual, whereas Fritzsche focuses on collective memory, Summerfield is
focusing on how individual memory can function in a collective. Alessardro
Porteli states that ‘oral history has no unified subject; it is told from a
multitude of points of view, and the impartiality traditionally claimed by
historians is replaced by the partiality of the narrator’20, this
contested tool of a historian is vital to the relationship between history and
memory. The role of a historian is to uncover truth’s; oral history can never
be told without taking sides. Summerfield recognises that she places herself
into her work, this autobiographical tone represents a shift from what Magnusson
sees in women’s ego-documents. Rather than women placing themselves outside of
even their own stories, now in a new feminist discourse and through the use of
oral history, memory is empowering to women. The relationship between both
memory and history here is where the narrator not only recalls the past but
asserts their interpretation of the past. Summerfield’s identification with
poststructuralism has led to her evaluation of oral history and to investigate
subjectivities. The constructing of popular memory, Summerfield argues, is
expressed when we reconstruct our lives, we compose stories that ‘smooth out contradictory and fractured discourses in relation to an
When a narrator is thus allowed to explore the ways in which cultural
discourses and personal memory intersect one another, a new narrative of
history and memory is exposed. Fritzsche analysis of trauma also presents how
individual memory can feed into a collective responsibility, the pressure to
maintain a unified narrative of an event is in danger of losing its personal
meaning to each individual. It is therefore ‘necessary to encompass within oral history
analysis and interpretation, not only the voice that speaks for itself, but also
the voices that speak to it’22. In
Summerfield’s case this is exposing that what was once rejoiced as a triumph
for women, the war actually limited the advancement of women’s rights and even
into the 1970s the war continued a long-standing custom of women’s
subordination to men, if anything it reinforced gender differentiation. Here
the relationship between memory and history delves into a parallel analysis.
For Summerfield’s participants the burden of making events ‘fit’ into a
positive national rhetoric is turned on its head and through oral history they
have opened up an entirely new cultural framework, in which is vital to history
as a discipline. One of the many strengths of this book is that it allows the
study of both femininity and masculinity into the framework of oral history and
‘history from below’. Intuitively, most of us are sensitive to social class and
status 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 overly
rigid 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. Orality
is the basic human mode of communication and although not every woman of the
war may fit into these category’s, what Summerfield has achieved by giving purposefulness
to social action, a voice to those unheard, despite the category’s Summerfield
places them into, she has teased apart memory and history and shown how both
rely on one another. In principle, oral history can extend toward every
historical field. It provides an avenue which makes memory and history
interlinked with personal and social connections but also brings other disciplines
in touch with one another. This web of knowledge gives history ‘back to the
people in their own words’24, and a
chance to make their own memory and history.

As my thesis argues, history and memory are allies, as much as history
looks to the past it must also use these lessons in order to shape the future. As
humans we have horrific memories, what we
remember about the past can be clouded by our own biases and what we forget
through the passage of time. History has its own limitations, but through peer
review and the process of creating a hypothesis it possesses an ability memory
does not; correction. Therefore, both memory and history need one another,
memory in a way has become a sub-branch of history they are not totally
oppositional realms of knowledge production. When these works stand alone, they
represent fields of study stimulated by the question of memory and history as a
new breadth of knowledge. Their effectiveness when brought together multiples. They
signify similar conclusions based on the creation of self-identity, the empowerment
of memory study on subaltern categories and the creation of collective memory. The
works themselves also represent different generational findings, therefore highlighting
that no matter when memory and history are studied, the findings follow a
pattern, adding credibility and scientifically value to this field of study.
Together they therefore reinforce the essence of memory study and its
importance on being linked to history. Ultimately, this study is perplexing,
yet these works reinforce the important we have in reflecting on our past and learning
about the future.


1Peter Burke, Varieties of
cultural 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, Present
Modernity 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 of
Modern 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’, Past
and Present 55 (1972), pp. 3-17. 


12 Michael Bernard-Donals, Forgetful Memory (2009, New York) p.

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 of
History (1988) and

Joan W. Scott, ‘Gender: A Useful
Category of Historical Analysis’, American Historical Review 91 (1986),
pp. 1053-75  

14Sigurõur Magnússon, ‘Gender: a useful category in the analysis of
Ego-documents?’, Scandinavian Journal of History (2013).

15 Maurice Halbwachs (ed.), On Collective Memory (Chicago,

16 Ibid.

17 Mary Vincent, Breaking the silence? Memory and oblivion since the
Spanish Civil War. In E. Ben-Ze’ev, R. Ginio, & J. Winter (Eds.), Shadows
of 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, ‘History
as Social Memory’, Varieties of Cultural History, (Cambridge 1997) pp.

20 Alessandro Portelli, The Battle of Valle Guilia: Oral History
and 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 Construction
of Oral History (Cambridge, 1995).

23 Elizabeth Tonkin, Narrating our Pasts (Cambridge, 1995).

24 Paul Thompson, ‘The voice of the past’ (Oxford, 1978).


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