Recommended Readings | Theory

We are, all of us, people of memory. Our daily lives are shaped by our individual and collective past. What is new and novel is interpreted through a filter made up of previous experience and recollection. How we think about ourselves and our world today is inextricably linked to how we have thought about ourselves and our world. We are not imprisoned by our memory, but neither can we be completely free of its influence. It is always with us, helping us make sense of things: our feelings of progress or inertia, our sense of newness or familiarity, our connections to place and tradition, our disappointments and our longings. Through memory we are insulated from the shock of the new, but also made brave enough to withstand each startling new day.

So dependent are we on our memory that it would not seem necessary to provide definitions or structure when memory is the subject of our research interests. Nevertheless, numerous scholars have crafted intellectual tools and frameworks that can be of great assistance as we grapple with what questions to ask and what some of the answers may help us to see.

Although by no means exhaustive, the following list of scholarship seeks to outline the basics in the theoretical approaches to memory research. Almost all researchers into memory are indebted to either Maurice Halbwachs or Pierre Nora, or both, and so their works head the list. Additional works of importance follow, and are included either for their contributions to the theoretical aspects of memory or for the exemplary nature of their application and method.


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Halbwachs, Maurice.  On Collective Memory.  Ed. and Trans. by Lewis A. Coser. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Halbwachs, Maurice.  The Collective Memory.  Trans. by Francis J. Ditter and Vida Y. Ditter. New York: Harper and Row, 1980.

Nora, Pierre. “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire” Representations, no. 26 (Spring 1989): 7-25.

Nora, Pierre, and David P. Jordan, eds.  Rethinking France = Les Lieux Des Mémoire, 3 volumes.  Trans. By Mary Trouille.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999-2009.

Nora, Pierre, and Lawrence D. Kritzman.  Realms of Memory: Rethinking the French Past, 3 volumes.  New York: Columbia University Press, 1996-1997.

Anderson, Benedict.  Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism.  London: Verso, 1983.

Barthel, Diane. “Getting in Touch with History: The Role of Historic Preservation in Shaping Collective Memories” Qualitative Sociology 19 (1996): 345-365.

Ben-Amos, Dan and Liliane Weissberg, eds. Cultural Memory and the Construction of Identity.  Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1999.

Bodnar, John. “Generational Memory in an American Town”  Journal of Contemporary History 26 (Spring 1996): 619-637.

Bodnar, John.  “Pierra Nora, National Memory, and Democracy: A Review”  Journal of American History 90:4 (March 2004): 951-963.

Bourguet, Marie-Noelle, Lucette Valensi, and Nathan Wachtel.  Between Memory and History. New York: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1990.

Boyarin, Jonathan, ed.  Remapping Memory: The Politics of Time and Space.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994.

Burke, Peter.  “History as social memory”  In Memory: History, Culture and the Mind, ed. by Thomas Butler, 97-113.  Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990    

Carroll, Peter N.  Keeping Time: Memory, Nostalgia and the Art of History.  Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1990.

Connerton, Paul.  How Societies Remember.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Crane, Susan A.  “Writing the Individual Back into Collective Memory”  American Historical Review 102 (December 1997): 1372-1381.

Etzioni, Amitai.  “Towards a Theory of Public Ritual” Sociological Theory 18 (2000): 44-59.

Fentress, James and Chris Wickham.  Social Memory.  Oxford: Blackwell, 1992.

Foucault, Michel. Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, trans. and ed. by Donald F. Bourchard.  Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977.

Fussell, Paul.  The Great War in Modern Memory.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1975.

Gedi, N., and Y. Elam.  “Collective Memory – What Is It?“  History and Memory 8 (1996): 30-50.

Gillis, John R., ed.  Commemorations: The Politics of National Identity.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994.

Gillis, John. “Remembering Memory: A Challenge for Public Historians in a Post-National Era” The Public Historian 14 (Fall 1992): 83-93.

Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd. “‘You Must Remember This’: Autobiography as Social Critique” Journal of American History 85 (September 1998): 444-453.

Hobsbawm, Eric and Terence Ranger.  The Invention of Tradition.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Hue-Tam Ho Tai. “Remembered Realms: Pierre Nora and French National Memory” The American Historical Review 106 (June 2001): 906-922.

Hutton, Patrick H.  History as an Art of Memory.  Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 1993.

Hutton, Patrick H. “The Art of Memory Reconceived: From Rhetoric to Psychoanalysis” Journal of the History of Ideas 48 (July-September 1987): 371-392.

Hutton, Patrick H. “Collective Memory and Collective Mentalities: The Halbwachs-Aries Connection” Historical Reflections 15 (1988): 311-322.

Kammen, Michael.  Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture.  New York: Knopf, 1991.

Kenny, Michael G. “A Place for Memory: The Interface between Individual and Collective History” Comparative Studies in Society and History 41 (July 1999): 420-437.

Kitzmann, Andreas, Conny Mithander, John Sundholm, eds. Memory Work: The Theory and Practice of Memory.   New York: P. Lang, 2005.

Klein, Kerwin Lee. “On the Emergence of Memory in Historical Discourse” Representations 69 (2000): 127-150.

Le Goff, Jacques.  History and Memory, trans. by Steven Rendall and Elizabeth Claman. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.

Le Goff, Jacques, and Pierre Nora.  Constructing the Past: Essays in Historical Methodology.  Cambridge, N.Y.: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Leydesdorff, Selma, Luisa Passerini and Paul Thompson, eds.  Gender and Memory. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Lowenthal, David.  The Past Is a Foreign Country.  New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Lowenthal, David.  Possessed by the Past: The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History.  New York: Free Press, 1996.

Moore, Niamh and Yvonne Whelan, eds.  Heritage, Memory and the Politics of Identity: New Perspectives on the Cultural Landscape.  Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2007.

Olick, Jeffrey K., and Joyce Robbins. “Social Memory Studies: From Collective Memory to the Historical Sociology of Mnemonic Practices” Annual Review of Sociology 24 (1998): 105-140.

Phillips, Kendall R., ed.  Framing Public Memory.  Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2004.

Radstone, Susannah, ed.  Memory and Methodology.  New York: Berg, 2000.

Ricoeur, Paul.  Memory, History, Forgetting. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.  

Schudson, Michael. “Lives, Laws, and Language: Commemorative versus Non-Commemorative Forms of Effective Public Memory” Communication Review 2 (1997): 3-18.

Schwartz, Barry. “The Social Context of Commemoration: A Study in Collective Memory” Social Forces 61 (December 1982): 374-402.

Thelen, David, ed.  Memory and American History.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.

Warner, W. Lloyd.  The Living and the Dead: A Study of the Symbolic Life of Americans.  Yale University Press, 1959.

Winter, Jay.  Remembering the War: The Great War Between Memory and History in the Twentieth Century.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.

Winter, Jay.  Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History. Cambridge, N.Y.: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Winter, Jay, and Emmanuel Sivan, eds.  War and Remembrance in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge, N.Y.: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Wood, Nancy. “Memories’ Remains: Les Lieux de Mémoire” History and Memory 6 (1994): 123-149.

Additionally, a number of journals have dedicated whole issues, or forums within issues, to various aspects of memory.  Some of the specific articles have been listed independently in the various bibliographies, but all of them are worthwhile.

Journal of American History 75 (March 1989): 1117-1280.

David Thelen, “Memory and American History”

Michael Frisch, “American History and the Structures of Collective Memory: A Modest Exercise in Empirical Iconography”

David Blight, “‘For Something Beyond the Battlefield: Frederick Douglass and the Struggle for the Memory of the Civil War”

Robert E. McGlone, “Rescripting a Troubled Past: John Brown ’s Family and the Harper’s Ferry Conspiracy”

John Bodnar, “Power and Memory in Oral History: Workers and Managers at Studebaker”

David Lowenthal, “The Timeless Past: Some Anglo-American Historical Preconceptions”

“Memory and Counter-Memory,” Representations 26 (Spring 1989): 1-149.

Natalie Zemon Davis and Randolph Starn, “Introduction”

Pierre Nora, “Between History and Memory: Les Lieux Des Memoire

Richard Terdiman, “The Mnemonics of Musset’s Confession“

Michael S. Roth, “Remembering Forgetting: Maladies de la Memoire in Nineteenth-Century France”

James F. Young, “The Biography of a Memorial Icon: Nathan Rapoport’s Warsaw Ghetto Monument”

Renato Rosaldo, “Imperialist Nostalgia”

Steven Knapp, “Collective Memory and the Actual Past”

Forum: “History and Memory,” American Historical Review 102 (Dec. 1997): 1371-1412.

Susan A. Crane, “Writing the Individual Back into Collective Memory”

Alon Confino, “Collective Memory and Cultural History: Problems of Method”

Daniel James, “Meatpackers, Peronists, and Collective Memory: A View from the South”

“The Uses of Memory” Journal of American History 85 (Sept. 1998): 409-465.

David Paul Nord, “The Uses of Memory: An Introduction”

Robert E. McGlone, “Deciphering Memory: John Adams and the Authorship of the Declaration of Independence”

Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, “ ‘You Must Remember This:’ Autobiography as Social Critique”

“Collective Memory,” Journal of Contemporary History 39 (October 2004): 473-636.

Stefan Goebel,  “Re-membered and Re-mobilized: The ‘Sleeping Dead’ in Interwar Germany and Britain”

Effie G. H. Pedaliu, “Britain and the ‘Hand-over’ of Italian War Criminals to Yugoslavia, 1945-48“

Arnold Krammer, “The Cult of the Spanish Civil War in East Germany”

Michael Cunningham, “Prisoners of the Japanese and the Politics of Apology: A Battle over History and Memory”

Wulf Kansteiner, “Nazis, Viewers and Statistics: Television History, Television Audience Research and Collective Memory in West Germany”

Scott Worthy, “Communities of Remembrance: Making Auckland’s War Memorial Museum”

Dan A. Porat, “From the Scandal to the Holocaust in Israeli Education“

“World War II and National Cinemas,” American Historical Review 106 (June 2001): 804-864.

John Bodnar, “Saving Private Ryan and Postwar Memory in America”

Geoff Eley, “Finding the People’s War: Film, British Collective Memory and World War II”

Denise J. Youngblood, “A War Remembered: Soviet Films of the Great Patriotic War”

Jay Winter, “Film and the Matrix of Memory”



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