Memory as a Cultural System: Abraham Lincoln in World War II

TitleMemory as a Cultural System: Abraham Lincoln in World War II
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1996
AuthorsSchwartz, Barry
JournalAmerican Sociological Review
Date Published10/1996

This study of Abraham Lincoln during World War II extends a semiotic interpretation of culture as it focuses on "memory as a social frame." Memories invoked in the context of a present crisis are rooted in generational experience. One-third of all Americans living in 1940 were born during the late nineteenth century, when Civil War resentments were fading and remembrances of Lincoln were more positive and vivid than ever. This generation understood the meaning of World War II by "keying" it to the Civil War. Patterned arrays of images of Lincoln were invoked by local and federal agencies to clarify the purpose of World War II, legitimate the preparations for it, and then to orient, inspire, and console the people who fought it. As a model for the present and of the present, images of Lincoln comprised a cultural system that rationalized the experience of war. This book compares and contrasts memory as a cultural system with constructionist theories of collective memory and discuss it in light of the erosion of American society's grand narratives.

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