Memory is now as familiar a category for historians as politics, war or empire. Whether measured by the number of books, journals or doctoral dissertations poised to explore it, the array of scholarly conferences devoted to its dissection, or the number of university courses that engage with the concept, ‘memory’ has become over the past 20 or so years a familiar word in the vocabulary of academic history. And we ask a lot of this seemingly everyday term. We stretch it across cognitive and neural processes of remembering located in the human brain and the narrative expression of autobiographical memories found in memoirs; it serves for public acts of commemoration that mark signiﬁcant events in the past, and for public apologies for past atrocities made by state authorities. We know it as public history, museum practice and ‘heritage’; we spawn from it notions of social memory, collective memory and historical memory. And the so-called ‘memory boom’ – something that applies equally to the apparently renewed enthusiasm for the past in popular culture and to the scholarship that seeks to understand it – extends far beyond the disciplinary boundaries of history, to encompass not only other humanities and social science disciplines such as music and sociology, but cognitive psychology and neuroscience as well. As discussed below, historians are not always referring to the same thing when they speak of ‘memory’, and in their studies of this nebulous phenomenon there has been a tendency to slide – often in under-acknowledged ways – between approaching it as a source of raw material about the past, and as a subject for historical inquiry in its own right. This book is devoted to the boom area of memory – as confronted by
historians – in all its forms. It encourages historiographical reﬂection through a number of tangible, short case studies drawn from each contributor’s own research made accessible to the non-specialist. What distinguishes it from the many other historiographical volumes about memory and history on the book shelves is its focus on sources. Here the authors oﬀer up their original research through an explanation of what they are doing with their primary material, and a reﬂection on the diﬃculties of working with it. They identify both what is to be gained in the encounter, and what procedural, epistemological or perhaps ethical pitfalls await the historian who attempts to grasp
something as elusive as memory in the process. Most strikingly, the recent turn to memory among historians has taken them far beyond an analysis of personal memories expressed in interviews and memoirs. We must bear in mind, in fact, that historians do not approach memory just as
source but as subject. That is, they seek evidence not only of memory (what is remembered), but evidence aboutmemory (how and why the past is remembered in one way and not another). It is the question of how a certain view of the past is incorporated, sustained or alternatively eclipsed in the mediums of the present – at individual and social levels – that engages their interest. And it entails the investigation of multiple source bases: texts, objects and actions that serve as conduits for these selective processes of remembrance and memorialization. Across the chapters in this book you will encounter oral testimony generated through interviews conducted by historians; legal testimony given by witnesses in the court room; inscriptions on ancient monuments; works of art; photography in museum displays; legal polemic and journalism; letters written by war veterans; autobiographical ﬁction; the archive, conceived in the broadest sense; and material culture constituted by both everyday and exotic objects. There is a broad chronological and geographical sweep: the case studies encompass moments between the ﬁfth century BCE and the twenty-ﬁrst century; and they draw on examples from Europe, the United States, Japan and Australia. While there is no attempt at a comprehensive overview of approaches to memory among historians, I hope that the volume communicates something of the vastness and range of the enterprise. To reﬂect this diversity of engagement with memory as source and subject
across the discipline, the book is divided into three distinct parts. Part I oﬀers a discussion of how oral and legal historians have approached the testimony of individual lived experience in their work – listening to it, recording it, understanding it, and turning it into written history. Part II is focused squarely on social acts of memorialization and commemoration, attempts on the part of groups or individuals who act as ‘memory makers’ in diﬀerent times and places to articulate – via a range of mediums that bear the weight of the analysis oﬀered – a certain view of the past, usually in the service of present-day objectives. Having set up this distinction between individual remembrance and social commemoration, Part III is poised to complicate it. In particular, the chapters in the ﬁnal part of the book interrogate the interplay between these two types of ‘memory at work’. They linger on the problem of ‘collective memory’ – what it might mean and how it sits in relation both to individual remembering and public acts of memorialization. Yet in keeping with the ﬂuidity of approaches in the larger body of scholarship on memory, divisions between the parts of the book are not watertight. There is a common interest across the volume in how certain stories about the past become the dominant ones; and how those dominant stories may inform or be informed by individual action. Throughout the book careful attention is paid not only to political and social contexts, but also to the institutional contexts in which the chosen source material was generated and consumed – from the
museum, court room or government department to the artist’s studio and literary marketplace. The latter part of this introduction oﬀers a reﬂection on the (sometimes unexpected) connections across the chapters, linking these shared themes and concerns to wider historiographical debates about the nature and mobilization of memory.