History as Social Memory

TitleHistory as Social Memory
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication1989
AuthorsBurke, Peter
Book TitleMemory: History, Culture, and the Mind
PublisherB. Blackwell

In different places and times, historians have considered different aspects of the past to be memorable (battles, politics, religion, the economy and so on) and they have presented the past in very different ways, concentrating on events or structures, on great men or ordinary people, according to their group's point of view. The author takes up this view of the history of history in this chapter. The term 'social memory', which has established itself in the last decade, has been chosen as a useful piece of shorthand which sums up the complex process of selection and interpretation in a simple formula and stresses the homology between the ways in which the past is recorded and remembered. The social history of remembering is an attempt to answer three main questions. What are the modes of transmission of public memories and how have these modes changed over time? What are the uses of these memories, the uses of the past, and how have these uses changed? Conversely, what are the uses of oblivion? These broad questions will be examined here only from the relatively narrow point of view of a historian of early modern Europe.

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