Since the 1990s, memory studies have become a popular field regrouping specialists of increasingly diverse intellectual expertise. German scholar Aleida Assmann posits that this investment in studying memory can be explained by various factors such as the legacies of great tragedies in the twentieth century (most notably the Holocaust), the fall of “grand narratives” (hastened by the end of the Cold War and the democratisation of former Communist states in Eastern Europe) and by the digital revolution which has challenged previous ways of communication and sharing information. Transitional justice in former dictatorial states notably in Latin America and the ever-increasing importance of human rights discourses on a global scale can all be said to have led to the rise of conciseness concerning memory. While some scholars have been less than enthusiastic about the notion and very existence of “collective memory” (on which memory studies lay) and generally remain wary of the “memory boom” in academia, others have recognised the importance of memory as a terrain of inquiry to understand identity formation and challenges to social cohesion based on memory claims. Scholars have also recognised how studying memory helps apprehend how societies view of themselves do not represent linear, fixed, “top-down” efforts and rather, reflect a plurality of competing voices embedded in a complex struggle. On this last point, historicising memory, that is, to pay close attention to how “the meanings attached to the past change over time and are part of larger … societal and political” forces, has emerged as a fruitful enterprise.
By putting special emphasis on two key works of Latin Ameri...
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...y with those in a process of counter-identification. Vandalism of otherwise “sacred” objects or places is a vivid example of counter-identification. The historicisation process again becomes useful to expose the palimpsests of urban spaces and how counter-identification becomes possible. Counter-identification puts at its centers power struggles for the meaning of memory. Historicising those manifestations therefore forces to ask who decides what should become sites of memory.
In sum, as this brief essay has tried to show with a small selection of readings, historicising memory remains important for memory scholars as it: aids distinguish “memory camps,” helps apprehend changes in memory discourse, questions the usage of space, interrogates the complexity of memory diffusion in social spaces and open scholars to a much more self-reflective practice.
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