Landscapes, Memory, Monuments, and Commemoration: Putting Identity in Its Place

By Osborne, Brian S. | Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

Landscapes, Memory, Monuments, and Commemoration: Putting Identity in Its Place


Osborne, Brian S., Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal


ABSTRACT/RESUME

This paper addresses the issue of how nation-states re-imagine themselves in local and global contexts. In particular, attention will be directed to how Canada has invented itself through strategies that have attempted to integrate a people separated by geography, history, ethnicity, class, and gender in the complex setting of two founding national-cultures, an expansionist neighbour, and a pro-immigration policy. Past strategies have turned to several meta-narratives: the spirit of the land; the cult of the hero; the transformation of wilderness into home and commodity; an ethic of progress; the nurturing of democracy and social justice. This paper will examine approaches to national identity that are self-consciously aware of place. This "geography of identity" is premised on the assumption that peoples' identification with distinctive places is essential for the cultivation of an awareness - an "a-where-ness" - of national identity. That is, nation-states occupy imagined terrains that serve as mnemonic dev ices. Familiar material worlds become loaded with symbolic sites, dates, and events that provide social continuity, contribute to the collective memory, and establish spatial and temporal reference points for society. That is, the nurturing of a collective memory and putative social cohesion through landscapes and landscapes, myths and memories, monuments and commemorations, quotidian practices and public ritual. When these are "placed" in context, they constitute the geography of identity.

Cet article examine comment les etats-nations s'imaginent dans les contextes global et local. Plus particulierement, comment le Canada's est invente par des strategies qui visent a integrer une population separee par ses geographies, ses histoires, ses ethnicites, ses classes et ses genres, et ce dans le contexte complexe de deux nations fondatrices, d'un voisin expansionniste et d'une politique pro-immigration. Dans le passe, les stratdgies utilisaient les meta-narrations: "I'ame de la terre," le culte du heros, la dosmestication de la nature, 'ethique du progres, et le maintien de la democratie et de la justice sociale. Get article se concentre sur les approches de I'identitr nationale qui ont une conscience du lieu. La premisse de cette geographie de l'identite est que I' identification avec des lieux distinctifs est essentielle pour alimenter une "conscience" -- une "a-where-ness" -- de l'identite nationale. Autrement dit, les etats-nations occupent des terrains imaginaires qui servent d'outils mnemonique s. Le monde physique familier devient rempli de sites symboliques, de dates et d'evenements qui facilitent une continuite sociale, contribuent a la memoire collective et 6tablissent des points de repere spatiaux et temporels pour la societe. Grace aux paysages externes et internes ("landscapes" and "inscapes") aux mythes et souvenirs, aux monuments et commemorations, aux pratiques quotidiennes et rituels publics, la societe parvient a cultiver sa memoire collective et sa cohesion sociale. Lorsque ces elements sont "places" dans leur contexte, ils constituent la geograplhie de l'identite.

INTRODUCTION: SETTING THE SEEN

In recent years, the fundamentalist view of collective identity has been challenged by those arguing the "invention of tradition" (Hobsbawm and Ranger, 1983) and the construction of an "imagined community" (Anderson, 1991). (1) From this perspective, national identities are constantly being reconstituted according to a presentist agenda. Rather than being primordial entities, they are generated by "symbolic processes that emerge and dissolve in particular contexts of action" (Handler, 1994:30). It follows from this that we need to understand the ways in which nationalizing-states are continually re-imagining themselves and asking ourselves if the result is appropriate for a contemporary society in its local and global contexts. (2)

The central theme of this paper, therefore, is the invention of Canada through strategies that have attempted to integrate a people separated by geography, history, ethnicity, class, and gender by constructing a national identity that is, among other things, self-consciously aware of place.

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