The battle for possession and interpretation of collective memory : the canon debate and history wars of the 1980s and 1990s
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Drawing from the theoretical lenses of sociocultural analysis, imagined communities, cultural memory and narrative theory, the author analyzed the struggle between conservatives and progressives for the possession and interpretation of society’s collective memory during the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s in the United States. Focusing specifically on the canon debate in higher education and the history wars in public schools, the author described and analyzed efforts made by competing interests to control curriculum through the implementation of discourses, texts, and artifacts promoting the development of collective memory reflecting ideologies linked to each group’s vision of American society. Drawing on the politics of memory literature, the author further examined how through educational institutions competing interests engaged in a struggle not only to define the narrative of the past, but also to control the narrative for ends defined in the present. The author argues that collective memory’s central role in the construction of individual and collective identity and the formation and maintenance of societal organization make it a contested site where dominant cultural interests seek social reproduction of their preferred norms and values through hegemonic processes such as securing nationalist consensus narratives in the school curriculum. In order to challenge the dominant narrative and the norms and values that foreclose educational possibilities for students, the author argues for critical historical inquiry and transformative approaches in the classroom to encourage students to become active and conscious participants in the ongoing battle for the possession and interpretation of collective memory.