Material Memories

By Marius Kwint; Christopher Breward et al. | Go to book overview
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Introduction: The Physical Past
Marius Kwint

During the last two decades, an interest in memory has been apparent within the arts, humanities and social sciences. This growth owes much to post-modernist criticism of the very notion of history that has traditionally underpinned Western thought. History, some argue, should fully admit to its illusory and constructed nature, and stop pretending that it refers to a real process which is amenable to systematic analysis and even prediction. For a truer understanding of the significance and causality of the past we should reckon more with memory, embracing all its subjective viewpoints, since awareness of the past depends on it.1 Design historians are well placed to

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1
This argument overstates the claims of historians to be objective, but is none the less influential. See, for example, Jean Baudrillard, The Illusion of the End, trans. Chris Turner (Cambridge, 1994); Keith Jenkins, Re-thinking History (London, 1991) and the journal of the same title; and for a revealing debate, Patrick Joyce, Katrina Kelly, Lawrence Stone and Gabrielle M. Spiegel, ‘History and Post-modernism’, Past and Present, nos. 133 (1991) and 135 (1992). For examples of recent memory-work among historians (although some of it stemming from literary studies and the oral and popular history movements more than avowed post-modernism) see Jay Winter, Sites of Mourning, Sites of Memory: The Great War in European Cultural History (Cambridge, 1995); Alistair Thomson, Anzac Memories: Living with the Legend (Melbourne, 1994); Tony Kushner, The Holocaust and the Liberal Imagination: A Social and Cultural History (Oxford, 1994); Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory (London, 1995). Memory has been important in medieval and Renaissance studies: progenitors here are, respectively, Mary Carruthers, The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture (Cambridge, 1990) and Frances Yates' classic The Art of Memory (London, 1992 [1966]). Many of the former are based on material sources. For an illustrated survey see Nancy Netzer and Virginia Reinburg (eds), Memory and the Middle Ages, exhibition catalogue, Boston College Museum of Art (Boston, Mass., 1995). I am grateful to Paul Williamson for this and other references.

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