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Voices of Collective Remembering Universitetet i Oslo May 2004

James V. Wertsch Washington University in St. Louis jwertsch@wustl.edu

Collective Memory
Ancient issue but renewed interest Many disciplines involved
History (Nora, Novick) Sociology (Halbwachs) Psychology (Middleton) Anthropology (Cole) Communication/media studies (Schudson) Education (Wineburg, Seixas) Literature (Fussell)

Collective Memory
Little agreement on terminology (vs. study of individual memory in psychology):
Collective memory (Halbwachs) Public memory (Bodnar) Cultural memory Historical memory Historical consciousness (Seixas)

An Encounter with Collective Memory: Sasha in Moscow


The United States made a lot of money from selling arms and other things to countries during the early years of the war, but it did not really contribute as an ally. In fact, along with Great Britain it refused to open a second front in 1942 and again in 1943. It was only after the U.S. and Britain began to think that the Soviet Union might win the war by itself and dominate post-war Europe that they became concerned enough to enter the war in earnest by opening a second front in 1944.

Russian Collective Memory


Stark contrast with US narrative
Tied to a Russian identity project

Sasha: a post-Soviet account: informed and with access to information Not recognized or transparent to Sasha: just telling us What really happened
Probably not open to revision based on disconfirming evidence A very neat narrative; impatient with ambiguity (Novick), complexity, disconfirming evidence

In Lieu of Defining Collective Memory


Collective memory vs. individual memory Collective memory: strong version vs. distributed version Distributed version of collective memory (the correct interpretation):
Active agent + cultural tool Cultural tools especially in the form of narrative texts (Sasha + textual means)

In Lieu of Defining Collective Memory


Textual means
Issues of production and consumption (including resistance)

Collective memory vs. Collective remembering


Process of using textual means

Collective memory vs. Collective knowledge


Memories belong to a group Part of identity project

Collective Memory vs. History


Identity project (usually a picture of heroism, victimhood, etc.) Aspires to arrive at objective truth, regardless of consequences Recognizes complexity and ambiguity May revise existing narrative in light of new evidence (archives, etc.)

Impatient with ambiguity Ignores counterevidence in order to preserve established narrative

Schematization in Collective Memory: Specific Narratives vs. Schematic Narrative Templates


Sashas specific narrative
Underlying Schematic Narrative Template
Deep memory Schematic: general, abstract Narrative: in form Template: applies to many episodes Specific to particular collectives

Triumph-over-Alien-Forces SNT
Russian version:
Russia was peaceful and not interfering with others Russia is viciously and wantonly attacked without provocation Russia almost loses everything in total defeat Through heroism and exceptionalism, and against all odds, Russia triumphs

Applies to Several Past Episodes


Mongols (13th century) Swedes (18th) Napoleon (19th) Germans (20th) Communism and Western mentality (20th)

Template: same basic (schematic) story (narrative) over and over

Conclusions
Collective memory
Distributed version
Collective remembering = active agent using particular textual means (especially narratives) Textual means are often transparent Textual means belong to, and characterize a collective
Distinguishes one group from another Source of memory borders

Issues of the production and consumption of the textual means

Conclusions
Collective remembering is not analytic history

Use of schematic narrative templates in collective remembering (vs. specific narratives)