Ajalugu, mälu ja mäluajalugu: uutest suundadest kollektiivse mälu uuringutes [Abstract: History, memory and mnemohistory: new trends in collective memory studies]

Marek Tamm


Keywords: collective memory, cultural memory, memory studies, mnemohistory.

This article outlines some recent achievements and new perspectives in contemporary memory studies. It first gives an overview of the recent handbooks and anthologies of memory studies, which mark the emergence of a kind of meta-memory research and testify to the institutionalization of the young discipline. More precisely, these three anthologies are discussed: “Theories of memory: a reader” (2007), ed. by Michael Rossington and Anne Whitehead; “Memory: an anthology” (2008), ed. by Harriet Harvey Wood and A. S. Byatt; “The collective memory reader” (2011), ed. by Jeffrey K. Olick, Vered Vinitzky-Seroussi and Daniel Levy; as well as three recent handbooks: “Cultural memory studies: an international and interdisciplinary handbook (2008), ed. by Astrid Erll and Ansgar Nünning; “Gedächtnis und Erinnerung: ein interdisziplinäres Handbuch” (2010) ed. by Christian Gudehus, Ariane Eichenberg and Harald Welzer; “Memory: histories, theories, debates” (2010), ed. by Susannah Radstone and Bill Schwartz.
Secondly, the article discusses the emergence of cultural memory studies, one of the most fruitful and promising trends in the collective memory studies of the last decade. Contemporary memory studies are rooted in sociology, particularly the works of Maurice Halbwachs; however, it seems that over the last decade, memory studies have been dominated by a ‘cultural turn’, with the more innovative and attractive ideas originating from cultural theorists and cultural historians. The most important shapers of this turn have most probably been the German scholars, Aleida and Jan Assmann, coming from English studies and Egyptology, respectively, who in the 1990s worked out a new influential model of analysis for memory studies, centered on the concept of ‘cultural memory’. Next to the Assmanns, the recent publications of Astrid Erll (“Memory in culture”, 2011) and Ann Rigney (“The afterlives of Walter Scott: memory on the move”, 2012) also are discussed, concluding that contemporary cultural memory studies stress primarily the dynamics, intermediality, and performativity of remembering.
And finally, the article addresses the old debate on the relationship of history and memory, in order to propose an alternative conceptual framework for it and demonstrate the perspectives opened by a new avenue of research, mnemohistory. In the mnemohistorical perspective, the key question of historical research is not about the original significance of past events, but rather about how these events emerge in specific instances and are then translated over time, and about their everyday actualization and propagation. Mnemohistory enables the historian – better than before – to encompass the two levels he or she is simultaneously working on: the historicization of the phenomenon of the past, and the historicization of their own work.
To conclude with, the article argues that the proliferation of memory studies in particular and the social ‘memory boom’ in general can be regarded as symptomatic of a much more general epistemological shift, the emergence of a new, presentist regime of historicity (new ways of articulating the categories of the past, the present and the future). A presentist regime of historicity implies a new mode of understanding time, an abandoning of the linear, causal and homogeneous conception of time characteristic of the previous, modernist regime of historicity. It has made possible a shift of the historian’s gaze so that the past no longer appears as something final and irreversible but persists in many ways in the present. It is plausible that these developments in general, as well as the meteoric rise of the concept of memory in particular, have irreversibly changed both the nature and outlook of history writing.

Marek Tamm (b. 1973) is Associate Professor of Cultural History, Estonian Institute of Humanities, Tallinn University.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.12697/AA.2013.1.05

ISSN 1406-3859 (print)
ISSN 2228-3897 (online)
Journal DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12697/issn1406-3859