From Collective Memory to Transcultural Remembrance

Matthew Graves
Elizabeth Rechniewski


Over the last thirty or so years, historians and social scientists have undertaken a wide ranging exploration of the processes involved in forgetting and remembering, with a particular focus on the level of the nation-state. Their interest corresponds to the period that Pierre Nora, the French historian responsible for the ground-breaking Les Lieux de memoire in the 1980s, terms the ‘era of commemoration,’ drawing attention to what he describes as the ‘tidal wave of memorial concerns that has broken over the world.’ Across the world, nation-states have paid renewed attention to the ceremonial and observance of national days, and have undertaken campaigns of education, information, even legislation, to enshrine the parameters of national remembering and therefore identity, while organisations and institutions of civil society and special interest groups have sought to draw the attention of their fellow citizens to their particular experiences, and perhaps gain national recognition for what they believe to have been long overlooked or forgotten. This article traces the over-lapping evolution of the practices of commemoration, the politics of memory and the academic field of ‘Memory Studies.’ It seeks in particular to identify the theoretical and methodological advances that have moved the focus of the study of memory from the static and homogenising category of ‘collective memory’ to practices of remembering, and from national to transcultural perspectives.


memory; commemoration; the politics of memory

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