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Memory – Bibliograpy

John over at Machina Memorialis, a focused and approachable blog which largely revolves around the work of Walter Ong, has just published a very nice bibliography on Memory. I’m always reminded of how useful bibliographies can be when I run into ones that are done well, especially to folks coming to a field (or in this case, a concept) fresh. John’s bibliography made me dig out my own annotated bibliography on memory, one which unfortunately excludes many important and exciting works. This latter fault is owed largely to the particular audience for whom I originally wrote this. The original audience was largely interested in Cambodian studies and specifically in a post-traumatic or post-genocidal sense. There are undoubtedly many pieces of which I am simply unaware, or have not read, and there are perhaps even more that I have read or simply left out. I’ve added some notable excluded titles in a random list at the end, largely as a note to myself to incorporate and expand at some later date. If you think there’s a particularly good piece I should take note of, please drop me a line.
Memory: an annotated bibliography

Attention paid to memory has skyrocketed in academic circles since the nineteen-eighties, becoming a ‘hot topic,’ or at least a ‘hot theme,’ in many circles. This has been promoted by the relatively loose (‘chaotic?’) disciplinary stance of the social sciences since the ‘literary turn.’ The concept is absolutely riven with theoretical and methodological problems. For instance, if one is doing work on memory, whose memory is to be examined? Can we properly speak of memory belonging to groups, or only to individuals? If we can indeed talk about memory and groups, in what ways can this help us to avoid the now-familiar functionalist traps that posit social-product-A as a means of controlling and determining individual action and agency, or avoid the racialist memory-theorization of Jungian psychiatrists with their concept of ‘race memory?’

Despite these issues, memory has not, and I predict, will not disappear from the academic scene anytime soon, though one can reasonably hope for a serious restriction in its application. This bibliography is intended to provide a brief overview of some of the relevant literature, though it makes absolutely no claims to either encyclopedism or even thoroughness at the level of noting all the most important literatures. One serious omission at the original time of composition is the lack of much serious attention to Nazi Holocaust literature on memory, which is foundational. This is the result of the focus at the time of composition, and will hopefully be rectified later. Serious omissions can be brought to my attention in the comments .

Memory in academic literature is deeply tied to the concept of trauma, with its associated tropes of loss and violence. Prior to this, perhaps the most important contribution of the twentieth century was to be found in Henri Bergson. 2004 [1912]. Matter and memory. Mineola (NY): Dover Publications. This must be considered partly a logical result of the concept itself – that which is remembered cannot be present to observation, and therefore a distance of time or space. It is also, and perhaps much more significantly, as a result of the academic and political contexts in which attention to memory was first paid. Although memory is most commonly associated first with the Nazi attempts to destroy European Jewry, memory first emerged in psychiatric circles in the wake of the Vietnam War, as a result of U.S. veterans attempting to secure a diagnosis for similar symptoms, which became known eventually as ‘Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder’. Good reviews of this can be found in James Berger, 1999. After the end: representations of post-apocalypse. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, and in Cathy Caruth, Editor. 1995. Trauma: explorations in memory. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press. After the diagnosis was accepted, increasing attention was paid to memory in both popular and academic circles, with the diagnosis rapidly expanding beyond being applied solely to adults with war-time experience to all sorts of traumas, ranging from rape to investigations of rumored ‘Satanic Ritual Abuse.’

Nevertheless, the first really modern pre-cursor to studies of social memory (memory techniques, such as the medieval ‘palace of memory,’ are also of great interest but are not addressed here) must be considered to be Maurice Halbwachs, 1992. On collective memory. Heritage of sociology series. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. A somewhat marginal member of the Durkheimian school, with the same general functionalist concerns, Halbwachs composed his text in the midst of the Vichy occupation, while many of his secular Jewish friends were being imprisoned, interrogated, and exported. Halbwachs argues that social memory must be considered a social fact – without social memory to serve as the armature for individual memory, none of us would be able to remember anything, is the stereotyped version of his argument. Subtler than this, the argument remains strictly Durkheimian – Halbwachs attempts to locate in memory the social glue that holds communities together. His landmark text on the places of the saints in the Holy Land, grouped as an appendix in the edition named above, pinpoints an intersection of geography, monument, and memory decades before Nora’s landmark piece (see below) reinvigorated the aggregation of themes.

Much of the best work on memory continues to take place in a functionalist, neo-functionalist, or post-functionalist idiom, whatever those appellations might be taken to mean. Essentially, they are concerned with the intersection of social memory and social identity, as the parallelism of a shared social memory and a shared social identity – memory as that which makes society stay together. In this light, Gillis’ wonderful edited volume must be considered an important and necessary text. See John R. Gillis, 1994. “Memory and identity: the history of a relationship,” in Commemorations: the politics of national identity. Edited by J. R. Gillis, pp. 41-57. Princeton: Princeton University Press, though the entire text is worth reading. Other good works in this vein include:

  • Barthel, Diane L. 1996. Historic preservation: collective memory and historical identity. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
  • Olick, Jeffrey K. Editor. 2003. States of memory: continuities, conflicts, and transformations in national retrospection (politics, history, and culture). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • Fentress, James, and Chris Wichkham. 1992. Social memory (new perspectives on the past). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
  • Houtman, Gustaaf. 1999. Remaking Myanmar and human origins: an account of the role of pagoda relics and museum fossils in SLORC-SPDC concepts of nation-building. Anthropology Today 15:13-19.
  • Malkki, Liisa H. 1995. Purity and exile: violence, memory, and national cosmology among Hutu refugees in Tanzania. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Novick, Peter. 1999. The Holocaust in American life. Boston.
  • Zerubavel, Yael. 1997. Recovered roots: collective memory and the making of Israeli national tradition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Zerubavel, Eviatar. 2003. Time maps: collective memory and the social shape of the past. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. [Zerubavel’s work is both politically contentious and theoretically innovative in ways that have generated some amount of debate]

But the major question of “how” remains deeply undertheorized. Drawing on post-structural theory and on studies of practice and ritual (such as those perspectives emerging from Bourdieu’s corpus of work), one of the most convincing avenues has been to associate social memory with religious (and recently, with secular) rituals, especially funerary or commemorative rituals. Connerton’s work can be seen as a foundational text for this discussion, though it is now often (unfairly) criticized for not foreseeing the wave of French theory which rapidly began to dominate the social sciences in the United States.

  • Connerton, Paul. 1989. How societies remember. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • de Coppet, Daniel. 1981. “The life-giving death,” in Mortality and immortality. The anthropology and archaeology of death. Edited by S. C. Humphreys and H. King, pp. 175-204. London & New York: Academic Press.
  • Chesson, Meredith S. Editor. 2001. Social memory, identity, and death: anthropological perspectives on mortuary rituals. Archaeological papers of the American Anthropological Association: American Anthropological Association.
  • Cohn, Samuel K., Jr. 1992. The cult of remembrance and the Black Death: six Renaissance cities in central Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.
  • Harvey, John H. 1995. Embracing their memory: loss and the social psychology of storytelling. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
  • Homans, Peter. 1989. The ability to mourn: disillusionment and the social origins of psychoanalysis. Chicago & London: University of Chicago.
  • Homans, Peter. 2000. Symbolic loss: the ambiguity of mourning and memory at century’s end. Charlottesville (VA) & London: University Press of Virginia.
  • Marston, John. 2003. “Death, memory, and building: the non-cremation of a Cambodian monk.” Association for Asian Studies, 2003.
  • Uimonen, Paula. 1996. Responses to revolutionary change. A study of social memory in a Khmer village. Folk: Journal of the Danish Ethnographic Society 38.

As noted previously, memory is also deeply associated (though it almost never loses its association with identity) with trauma, loss, and mourning. Caruth’s book, noted earlier, is a good introduction here, though much of the work emerging from the Johns Hopkins Press (like Caruth’s book, as well as LaCapra [below]) appears to too-simplistically valorize memory without theorizing it. Trauma comes in many forms, of course, from the mass-cultural (traumas ranging from the horrific such as the suffering of genocide to the banal, such as mass mourning for Princess Diana). It may also, according to many scholars, persist multigenerationally, being passed along to the descendants of those who actually suffered the traumatic events. In this light, good and relevant texts are the following.

  • Brandon, George. 1993. Santéria from Africa to the New World: the dead sell memories. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • Daniel, E. Valentine. 1996. Charred lullabies: chapters in an anthropography of violence. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Edkins, Jenny. 2003. Trauma and the memory of politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Faye, Esther. 2001. Missing the ‘real’ trace of trauma: how the second generation remember the Holocaust. American Imago 58:525-544.
  • Homans, Peter. 2000. Symbolic loss: the ambiguity of mourning and memory at century’s end. Charlottesville (VA) & London: University Press of Virginia.
  • Hughes, Rachel. 2003. The abject artefacts of memory: photographs from Cambodia’s genocide. Media, Culture, and Society 25:23-44.
  • Kleinman, Arthur, and Joan Kleinman. 1994. How bodies remember: social memory and bodily experience of criticism, resistance, and delegitimation following China’s Cultural Revolution. New Literary History 25:707-723.
  • Kleinman, Arthur. 1997. ‘Everything that really matters’: Social suffering, subjectivity, and the remaking of human experience in a disordering world. The Harvard Theological Review 90:315-335.
  • LaCapra, Dominick. 1998. History and memory after Auschwitz. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • LaCapra, Dominick. 2001. Writing history, writing trauma. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Smith, Levi. 2000. “Window or mirror: the Vietnam Veterans memorial and the ambiguity of remembrance,” in Symbolic loss: the ambiguity of mourning and memory at century’s end. Edited by P. Homans, pp. 105-125. Charlottesville (VA) & London: University Press of Virginia.
  • Young, James E. 1993. The texture of memory: holocaust memorials and meaning. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. [This book in particular, though it clearly deals with the Nazi Holocaust, is correctly regarded as something of a ‘must-read’ in memory literature]
  • Young, James E. 2000. “Against redemption: the arts of countermemory in Germany today,” in Symbolic loss: the ambiguity of mourning and memory at century’s end. Edited by P. Homans, pp. 126-146. Charlottesville (VA) & London: University Press of Virginia.

The lengthy list above doesn’t begin to cover the uses and abuses to which the term ‘memory’ has been put in the social sciences. Anytime the idea of ‘trauma’ emerges these days, one can expect memory to quickly follow. And since academics are nothing if not crotchety, the reaction came swiftly. Thankfully, it came quickly and most coherently in the form of an essay from Kerwin Klein, whose cranky yet carefully-argued attack on the concept of memory in the social sciences should be one of the first things anyone studying memory should read, up there with Halbwachs, Connerton, and Nora. After Klein’s piece took some of the air out of the memory bubble, the French and the francophones got in on the action, pushing the theoretical boundaries of ‘memory’ quickly past the concerns of the crypto-functionalists (a crowd to which I am often accused of belonging) and opening a whole new arena of approaches, which are often inspiring, usually important, and not-to-be-dismissed prior to reading.

  • Bal, Mieke, Jonathan Crewe, and Leo Spitzer. Editors. 1998. Acts of memory: cultural recall in the present. Dartmouth: Dartmouth College.
  • Climo, Jacob J., and Maria G. Cattell. 2003. Social memory and history: anthropological perspectives. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.
  • Foucault, Michel. 1984. “Nietzsche, genealogy, history,” in The Foucault reader. Edited by P. Rabinow, pp. 76-100. New York: Pantheon Books.
  • —. 1997. Ethics: subjectivity and truth. New York: New Press. [Much of Foucault’s still-neglected latter work deals explicitly with the difficulty in reconciling individual agency with social structure, especially in his concepts of ‘governmentality,’ and ‘ethics.’ While not specifically dealing with memory as such, the concerns are often parallel and it is useful to read him along with memory literature. The essay on Nietzsche is an earlier essay which more directly alludes to memory and also heralds the changes imminent in Foucault’s thought).
  • Baudrillard, Jean. 1994. Simulacra and stimulation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. [Baudrillard’s bombast and common embrace of charlatanism has prevented many of us from appreciating his subtle approach to the changes which the ‘scapes of modernity,’ especially its mass-mediated technologies, have wrought in the seemingly most personal of faculties, including memory. Even more relevant than this is the essay/presentation “The Gulf War Did Not Happen,” which addresses itself to the mediation of truth and fiction vis-à-vis mass-mediation, and the role of memory—constructed, or offensive against official truth?—in such [non-]events.]
  • Huyssen, Andreas. 1994. Twilight memories: marking time in a culture of amnesia. London: Routledge.
  • Huyssen, Andreas. 2000. Present pasts: media, politics, amnesia. Public Culture 12:21-38. [Huyssen’s work on memory is very good, and equally modern, though less bombastic than Baudrillard, and certainly less prone to charlatanism. His response to Nora’s (below) claim that we increasingly geographize our memories precisely because there’s so little of it left, is to examine the technologies which induce cultural amnesia, rendering memory so fragile and accessible to external control]
  • Klein, Lee Kerwin. 2000. On the emergence of memory in historical discourse. Representations:127-150. [Mentioned in the heading paragraph, this short essay ought to be considered a requirement]
  • Kligman, Gail. 1988. The wedding of the dead: ritual, poetics, and popular culture in Transylvania. Berkeley: University of California Press. [Like Klima’s much less successful work below, this book attempts to wed the study of poetics with serious sociology. A careful study of a Romanian village and their ‘peculiar customs’ reveals a poetics which is neither limited to functionalist concerns nor free of such socially integrative attempts. I consider this book a real triumph]
  • Klima, Alan. 2002. The funeral casino. Meditation, massacre, and exchange with the dead in Thailand. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Kristeva, Julia. 1982. Powers of horror: an essay on abjection. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Le Goff, Jacques. 1996. History and memory. New York: Columbia University Press. [Le Goff should always be read. On the differences and parallelisms between History and memory, he’s less perspicacious than usual, but it’s not to be missed].
  • Maschio, Thomas. 1994. To remember the faces of the dead; the plenitude of memory in southwestern New Britain. Madison (WI): University of Wisconsin Press. [On poetics and social continuity in anthropology, was considered deeply innovative at the time of its publication].
  • Nora, Pierre. 1989. Between memory and history: Les Lieux de Memoire. Representations:7-24. [This piece, later expanded into a 2-volume study, propounds Nora’s theory that we in the late modern are witnessing an explosion of ‘places of memory,’ precisely because we as modern humans have so little of it left. This study has been enormously influential and cannot be missed, though I myself feel that his case is enormously overstated and misses the entirely common linkage between spatialization and memory (or at least commemoration) common in many ancient cultures. It also, absurdly, seems to look right past Halbwach’s work in Palestine.]
  • Radstone, Susannah. Editor. 2000. Memory and methodology. Oxford: Berg Publishers.
  • Scott, Joan W. “”Experience”,” in Feminists theorize the political. Edited by J. Butler and J. W. Scott, pp. 22-40. New York and London: Routledge.
  • Scott, Joan W. 1991. The evidence of experience. Critical Inquiry 17:773-97. [These two essays, close versions of each other, begin with a quotation from black gay science-fiction writer Samuel Delaney’s autobiography. In this work, he realizes in the process of writing his autobiography that a memory he has carried with him and used to explain his personhood to others is wrong in important details. Scott progresses to examine the reliability of memory, as a useful corrective to the common liberal/leftist valorization of memory without adequate theorization.]
  • Scott, James C. 1985. Weapons of the weak: everyday forms of peasant resistance. New Haven (CT): Yale University Press. [Far from being an example of the liberal/leftist tendency, Scott’s penetrating analysis of the ‘remembered village’ in rural Malaysia shows that social memory can be progressive, conservative, or even reactionary. Without evaluating it in simplistic terms, he nevertheless clarifies that memory, in its opposition to ‘history,’ is that which circulates among the weapons of the weak.]

And then there are the post-conflict studies. Very similar to those listed in the beginning as deeply involved in a pseudo-functionalist enterprise (how does memory create community?), they often nevertheless push both the methodological and value-laden boundaries held by the previous list.

  • Chatterjee, Partha. 1993. The nation and its fragments: colonial and postcolonial histories. Princeton: Princeton University Press. [like the Foucault works cited earlier, this does not directly relate to memory but the concerns are so often parallel it is tremendously useful to read along with memory literature]
  • Evans, Grant. 1998. The politics of ritual and remembrance. Laos since 1975. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
  • Hue-Tam Ho Hai. Editor. 2001. The country of memory: remaking the past in late socialist Vietnam. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Kapstein, Matthew. 2002. The Tibetan assimilation of Buddhism: conversion, contestation and memory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Lavabre, Marie-Claire. 2000. “Stalin’s double death: memory and mourning among French Communist Party activists,” in Symbolic loss: the ambiguity of mourning and memory at century’s end. Edited by P. Homans, pp. 213-224. Charlottesville (VA) & London: University Press of Virginia.
  • Nuttal, Sarah, and Carli Coetzee. 1998. Negotiating the past: the making of memory in South Africa. Cape Town: Oxford University Press.
  • Pennebaker, James W., Dario Paez, and Bernard Rime. Editors. 1997. Collective memory of political events: social psychological perspectives. Mahwah, NJ: LEA.
  • Tanabe, Shigehara, and Charles F. Keyes. 1999. Cultural crisis and social memory: politics of the past in the Thai world. Richmond: Curzon.

Random but important additions:

  • Edward Casey’s Remembering: a phenomenological study. 
  • Gyatso, Janet, ed. 1992. In the mirror of memory. Reflections on mindfulness and remembrance in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism. Edited by M. Kapstein, SUNY Series in Buddhist Studies. Albany: State University of New York Press.
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3 thoughts on “Memory – Bibliograpy

  1. Daniel Richter says:

    Thanks for this great bibliography. I just started a book that I didn’t see on here, Paul Ricoeur’s “Memory, History, Forgetting”. I’ll be able to give a better synopsis after I’ve finished it, but it seems to be a pretty comprehensive discussion of “memory” in philosophy, starting with Plato and ending in the 20th century. I see from the chapter headings that he discusses Halbwachs, Yerushalmi and Nora.

  2. Erik says:

    Daniel, thanks for this. Yes, Ricouer is (suspiciously) missing, and not for any particularly good reason, frankly. I haven’t read it since about 13 years ago, long before I started taking comprehensive notes on all the books I read, and can hardly remember the main points. And, given my current workload, I doubt I’ll return to it in the next few months. Any chance you’d be interested in writing a review I could post here (attributed, of course)?

  3. Daniel Richter says:

    Sure, I could do that. It’ll take at least a few weeks though. I’m kept pretty busy with my workload also.

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