MEMORY AND HISTORY

Memory and history are intimately entwined subjects. Both memory and history are focussed on bridging the gap between the past and present. In addition, both memory and history share the fundamental characteristic of being a reproduction of past events that creates a narrative rather than an objective record of actual events. To explore this topic we were presented with two articles that investigate how culture is transmitted and remembered by society.

 The first article was the first chapter of How Societies Remember by Paul Connerton (1991). The primary concern that Connerton conveys during this chapter is an interest in how memories held by groups are maintained and passed on to others in the future. Furthermore, Connerton expresses an interest in understanding the relationship between political power and control of information.

Within the article, Connerton approaches the subject of constructing a historical narrative by analyzing the trail and subsequent execution of Louis XVI during the French revolution. This event was used by Connerton as an example of how the historical narrative is crafted to portray a particular meaning and helps support cultural identities or social ideals. The trial and execution of Louis XVI was carefully produced so that the public could be engaged to support the revolution and officially remove the figurehead of the old regime through socially acceptable channels.

The majority of the remainder of the article by Connerton focuses on the different forms of memory and goes on to explain their characteristics and general use. The three major categories of memory that Connerton explains are personal memory, cognitive memory and an unnamed memory that provides the ability to “reproduce a certain performance…[such as]… how to ride a bicycle”(P.22, 1991).

This article is relevant to archaeology because it explores one of the fundamental pursuits of the discipline, linking the past to the present. How we remember individuals and societies greatly influences the nature of archaeology. Much of what archaeology produces is data or artefacts that perpetuate the past and make new memories that shape our understandings of history and our current position in the historical narrative.

The second article was Daily practice and Social Memory at Çatalhöyük by Ian Hodder and Craig Cessford. This article has a lot of overlap with the previous article by Paul Connerton in regards to understanding how culture can be passed from one group to another, often across a span of time. The major difference is that this article by Hodder and Cessford is focussed on a specific place and particular time.

During this article, Hodder and Cessford explore how daily practices gradually change overtime, and how this relates to the production, modification and transmission of culture overtime. This article is not as broadly focussed as the Connerton article. Instead of focussing on general, overarching systems that can be applied to a wide variety of culture phenomena, Hodder and Cessford narrow their investigation to one site in central Turkey called Çatalhöyük and a specific time period within the Neolithic era.

This article provides archaeological data like descriptions of assembalages, site planes and detailed descriptions of buildings that have been excavated at Çatalhöyük. This archaeological data is used to support Hodder and Cessfords’ approach to understanding how culture and cultural practices can be produced and passed on to others. Hodder and Cessford argue that cultural products like households are instruments of cultural transmission. They argue that a house and the objects within a house are used every day in ways that reinforce and transmit the culture that produced that material. This perspective is relevant to archaeology because often the cultures that are under investigation no longer exist, therefore the only way to gain insight into their daily practices and cultural ideals is to extrapolate how archeological remains and artefacts would have been used by the peoples who used them.

Connerton, Paul
1991 “Social Memory.” Chapter 1 in How Societies Remember. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Hodder, Ian and Craig Cessford.
2004. “Daily practice and Social Memory at Çatalhöyük.” American Antiquity 69(1): 17- 40.

Engendering Place

Gender and gender roles has become an increasingly trendy issue amongst the pop culture of the west. With relatively recent social reforms like the enactment of gay marriage, the social climate in the west has become more open to exploring topics that were previously considered taboo or unapproachable such as gender and questioning traditional gender roles. This week, the two articles that we read discussed gender in relation to social roles, space and the household. Both articles provide a different perspective on the central issue of culturally dictated gendering of space.

The first article was the Introduction and Chapter 7 of Space, Text and Gender: An Anthropological Study of the Marakwet of Kenya by Henrietta Moore (1986). This article was primarily about gender roles, the division of labour, the means of production, and the organization of domestic spaces as a reflection of cultural ideals. Throughout the article, Moore mainly focuses on the micro scale of Marakwet society by investigating the behavior of individuals and the practices of households. For this article, Moore used a multivocality approach infused with conflict theory. During this article, Moore allocated a substantial portion of the paper concentrating on the tension between the sexes and how that relates to the organization of space, as well as the production of food. Moore proposed that the conflict between the sexes is the result of cultural practices that separates the designated space of the sexes and unequal division of labour. However, despite the tension between the sexes, Moore makes it clear that a Marakwet marriage is overall a cooperative unit. The data that was used by Moore was ethnographic in nature and centered on sex specific behavior patterns mainly pertaining to the means of producing food and the use of domestic spaces. This article is relevant to archaeology because it uses ethnographic data that can be used to infer practices and beliefs of analogous cultures that may no longer exist.

The second article assigned for this week was chapter 4 of Engendering Archaeology by Ruth Tringham (1991). This article primarily focused on how domestic space was organized in prehistoric Europe according to social roles, which were thought to be divided amongst the sexes. In particular, Tringham was attempting to infer gender relations and gender roles from the analysis of Neolithic architecture. The scale of this investigative study is mostly micro, however, a fairly substantial portion of the paper is used to explore macro scale issues like culture wide practices or beliefs. The data Tringham uses in this article was mostly archaeological analysis of a late Neolithic settlement in the former Yugoslavia. In particular, Tringham was interested in the type of domestic structure found at the late Neolithic site, as well as how space was laid out. In addition, Tringham mentioned using ethnographic data, ethnoarchaeology and experimental tests to assess her predictions regarding the hypothesized cultural practices of the late Neolithic people she was studying. During the paper, Tringham mentioned that she started her investigation using a remedial feminist approach, but soon found it to be inadequate. She decided to incorporate logical positivism into her study in order to be able to better address her research questions. According to Tringham, the feminist approach was insufficient because this perspective views material culture as a passive reflection of society’s behaviour, where as logical positivism allows the archaeological record to be seen as tied directly or indirectly to the behaviour of individuals. This article is relevant to archaeology because it emphasizes the importance of understanding the behaviour of ancient peoples as reflected in the archaeological record in order to better understand the social practices of their society.

Overall, these two articles did a good job highlighting how domestic space can be intimately tied to cultural beliefs such as gender roles. Moreover, these two articles demonstrated that space is often organized and given meaning as a direct result of individuals’ behavior and culturally dictated norms. My main criticism came from the Tringham articles assertion that one could determine gender roles from an analysis of Neolithic architecture. It is my understanding that most Neolithic structures were not constructed with very durable material and as such, not much of the original buildings survive to be analyzed. If all that remains of a building are post holes, charcoal or foundation stones, is it really possible to gain insight into complex social arrangements of the former inhabitants?

References

Moore, Henrietta L.
1986 “Interpreting Space.” Introduction and Chapter 7 of Space, Text and Gender: An Anthropological Study of the Marakwet of Kenya. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Tringham, Ruth.
1991. “Households With Faces: The Challenge of Gender in Prehistoric Architectural Remains,” In Gero, Joan M. and Margaret W. Conkey, eds., Engendering Archaeology. Oxford, UK: Blackwell. Pp. 93-131

Primary Source Blog

The primary source being explored for my blog entry is The Collective Memory by Maurice Halbwachs (1992). This book and its author are often cited as foundation for the collective or social memory theory which has had an impact on several disciplines of the social science including, anthropology, sociology and psychology.

Maurice Halbwachs was born during 1877 in Reims, France. Growing up, Halbwachs was an astute student who, in his early 20’s, was able to secure enrollment at the prestigious school the École Normale Supérieure in Paris (Russell, 2006). After completing his education in Paris, Halbwachs spent the next few years teaching and traveling between France and Germany.  During 1905, Halbwachs met Émile Durkheim who inspired Halbwachs’ interest in society and social processes. Over the next few years, Halbwachs taught sociology in Germany while he refined and developed his approach to understand social processes like how culture is transmitted across time and space. By 1925, Halbwachs had completed Les Cadres Sociaux de la Memoir (The Social Frameworks of Memory) in which he first coined the term collective memory (Ibid., 2006).

The outbreak of World War 2 had dire consequences for Halbwachs. Following the protest of the detention of a Jewish relative, Halbwachs was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Buchenwald concentration camp. The conditions at Buchenwald were very harsh as poor sanitation, starvation and disease were rampant throughout the camp. When Halbwachs was sent to Buchenwald, he was in his late 60’s and soon after his arrival at Buchenwald, Halbwachs contracted dysentery and died (Ibid., 2006). Five years later, Halbwachs’ La Mémoire collective (The Collective Memory) which contained his most important contribution to the social sciences was published posthumously.

What is the term/concept/approach?    

A cursory understanding of memory could lead one to perceive memory as an inert recording of the past. However, a more in-depth examination of memory reveals that memories have the ability to shape how we perceive the present and what we expect from the future (Kansteiner, 2002). Humans rely on at least two distinct forms of memory. The first form is personal memories which can be understood as a psychological process that encodes information from the environment as patterns of neurological signals, which are then stored for later retrieval. The second distinct form of memory is collective memory which consists of the grand sum of knowledge and information known by a social group as a whole (Halbwachs & Coser, 1992). Generally, collective memories are embodied in cultural materials like objects, buildings, places and texts. However, collective memories are not limited to physical material and can include other cultural products like concepts, ideas, and norms.

One of the major functions of collective memory is to help establish a shared identity amongst a social group (Assmann & Czaplicka, 1995). Identity is understood as characteristics, qualities, behaviours and beliefs that differentiates one social group or person from another. Collective memory provides content and a framework for individuals to assemble a narrative of the past that can be recognized or shared amongst their social group.  People use the narrative that they have constructed with collective memory to gain a sense of historical context for their lives and to incorporate elements of societies past into their personal identity (Ibid., 1995). In addition, individuals use past events drawn from both their personal memory and the collective memory as an example of potential outcomes to current or future events. Memory has a large impact on an individual’s perceptions and reactions to particular scenarios because past events are used as examples of potential outcomes of present and future events (Rose-Redwood, Alderman & Azaryahu, 2008).

The collective memory of a social group goes beyond what a society chooses to remember. What a society chooses to forget about the past is just as important (Shackel, 2001). Often, if historical facts do not fit with the popular narrative, they can be omitted or forgotten from the collective memory. An example of historical facts not fitting the narrative can be seen in downtown Philadelphia, at Independence National Historical Park (Salisbury & Saffron, 2002). At this park is housed a historical symbol of American freedom, the Liberty Bell. The bell was cast in the 18th century with the inscribed words “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof,”, however, in the past on this site that celebrates American values of freedom and independence, it is speculated that George Washington once kept slaves. In an act of crafting the historical narrative, Park Service, the governing body over the site, refused to study the site and instead, built a multimillion dollar visitor pavilion for the Liberty Bell.

How does it fit in this course?

This course, the archaeology of space and place, shares a lot of core concerns and has similar pursuits as other archeological courses. The concept of collective memory is a major underlying concept in all archeological courses and endeavours. Archaeology, as a discipline, is primarily concerned with establishing a historical narrative that is used to add the depth of time and broaden the human identity (Shackel, 2001). In many ways, archeological sites and historical places can be understood as repositories of culturally bound collective memory. From the collective memory approach, space and place are seen as cultural products that primarily function to help construct the historical narrative that is shared by a particular society. Moreover, the cultural meaning of space and place are incorporated into an individual’s identity (Anderson, 2004). In turn, identity shapes people’s perceptions of themselves and imparts cultural values, like norms, ideals or even esthetics. The values that people hold, influence their behaviour and determine how cultural resources like space are used.

What is its’ legacy in archaeological approaches to space and place?

The legacy of the collective memory approach has been widespread throughout the social sciences. The collective memory approach has provided an avenue for anthropology, sociology and psychology to gain valuable insights into how culture shapes identity which in turn influences behaviour and other culturally constrained elements of human existence (Confino, 1997). In particular, the collective memory approach has been very useful for understanding the latent functions of a wide range of cultural materials. As an example, monuments can be understood as material designed to transmit the historical narrative of a particular culture across time and space in order to propagate the culture represented by the monument. The ability of cultures to share the collective memory through material culture have led some proponents of the collective memory approach to label culturally significant objects, space and place, as “memory factories” (Dietler, 1998). In addition, the use of the collective memory approach highlights how cultural materials are an aspect used by the societal elite to control the masses. Influencing the historical narrative by emphasizing certain elements of a culture through the production of shared symbols and other culturally charged elements, like monuments or institutions, can manipulate individuals understandings of themselves and others.,

 What are the limitations?

A major limitation of the collective memory approach to archaeology is the lack of descriptive ability. Collective memory is more oriented toward explaining social and historical phenomena rather than describing them (Kansteiner, 2002). In particular, the collective memory approach excels at tying the past to the present and explaining how culture can be passed from one generation to another. Moreover, collective memory can help explain the emergence of particular aspects of a society’s’ cultural identity and can help explain a historical context for present day events. However, beyond the aforementioned strengths, collective memory approach is fairly limited (Ibid., 2002).

References

Anderson, J. (2004). Talking whilst walking: a geographical archaeology of knowledge. Area36(3), 254-261.

Assmann, J., & Czaplicka, J. (1995). Collective memory and cultural identity. New German Critique, (65), 125-133.

Confino, A. (1997). Collective memory and cultural history: problems of method. The American historical review102(5), 1386-1403.

Dietler, M. (1998). A tale of three sites: the monumentalization of Celtic oppida and the politics of collective memory and identity. World archaeology,30(1), 72-89.

 Halbwachs, M., & Coser, L. A. (1992). On collective memory. University of Chicago Press. Chicago

Kansteiner, W. (2002). Finding meaning in memory: A methodological critique of collective memory studies. History and theory41(2), 179-197.

Rose-Redwood, R., Alderman, D., & Azaryahu, M. (2008). Collective memory and the politics of urban space: an introduction. GeoJournal73(3), 161-164.

Russell, N. (2006). Collective Memory before and after Halbwachs. The French Review, 792-804.

Salisbury, S. & Saffron, I. (2002) Echoes of slavery at Liberty Bell site. Philadelphia Inquirer.

Shackel, P. A. (2001). Public memory and the search for power in American historical archaeology. American anthropologist103(3), 655-670.