Memories of the past are fluid and powerful. They are influenced by the present and can simultaneously influence the present. Memories can be manipulated to serve interests and often provide blueprints for social action. In the Summer 2010 issue of Contexts, two pieces capture these and other nuances of memory.
Barbara Sutton’s photo essay on “Situating Memory in Argentina” highlights pictures of the military dictatorship that disappeared, tortured, and violated the human rights of the people of Argentina. Robin Autry’s piece, entitled “Memory, Materiality, and the Apartheid Past,” examines processes of constructing memories in South Africa.
These readings could be paired together or could easily be paired with a chapter from Jeffrey Alexander et. al’s book on Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity, which explores the relationship between collective memory, identity, and trauma.
For an assignment, students could research sites of memory and bring pictures and a historical description of the site to share with a group.
Potential discussion questions include:
How can a memory be shared? Do you have to experience something in order to have a memory of it?
Do you think collective memory has the ability to deter future atrocities and human rights violations? Why or why not?
The notion of collective memory often insinuates that a dominant memory exists. However, Autry’s piece notes that resources and opportunity also play a role in which memory prevails. Discuss how power can affect collective memory.
How do you view the U.S. treatment of Native Americans, Abraham Lincoln, or more recent events like September 11th? What factors influence these memories and beliefs about the past?