Collective memory: history, memory, and community

Aldis, Abigail V.
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Memory, defined as a representation of the past, is at the core of what it is to be human. Memory of the self defines a person’s identity, because when we remember, we remember ourselves. Memory ranges from holding information in our brain for a few seconds to storing information for an entire lifetime, from memory of the immediate past to childhood memories to memory of events only experienced through second-hand storytelling. Memory is an individual phenomenon, but it is inherently collaborative. People do not physically share memories; memories are held in the minds of individuals. However, memories are shared, reinforced, altered, and forgotten largely through conversational interactions. Shared memories define what it means to be a community. Through conversation and societal structures, memories become collective in communities. Thus far, collective memory has largely been studied in a fragmented way, which I argue is detrimental to the field and to real-world applications. There have been two main approaches to collective memory: one is the psychological approach, and the other is the sociological approach. These approaches both have important components but leave other essential components out of the discussion. I argue that the best approach to studying collective memory and other collective phenomena is the social-interactionist approach, which starts with relevant cognitive phenomena, looks at how those cognitive phenomena are modified in social settings, and studies how the phenomena propagate across large social networks. I argue for an extension of this approach to include societal context variables such as educational standards and norms within communities because those factors also have large influence on the collective memory of a community. This thesis first gives a review of relevant cognitive processes, then moves to a discussion of the study of collective memory. I use a case study to demonstrate a modified, qualitative version of the social-interactionist approach to collective memory, then conclude with a discussion of the possibilities for real-world solutions using this method.