Troubled Pasts: News and the Collective Memory of Social Unrest

By Lule, Jack | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Troubled Pasts: News and the Collective Memory of Social Unrest


Lule, Jack, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


Troubled Pasts: News and the Collective Memory of Social Unrest. Jill A. Edy. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2006. 240 pp. $22.95 pbk.

Riots flared in Los Angeles following the 1992 trial of four Los Angeles police officers accused of assaulting Rodney King. News media immediately drew connections to the 1965 riots that burned the south central Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts.

In 1996, the Democratic national convention was held in Chicago, twenty-eight years after the tumultuous convention of 1968, which led to fighting in the streets and the trial of the "Chicago Seven." Democrats and journalists saw the 1996 convention as a chance to "put the past behind."

But is the past ever behind?

In Troubled Pasts, Jill Edy, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Oklahoma, looks at the collective memory of social crises in the United States and the role of the news media and political elites in constructing such memory.

Building on the roots of her doctoral research, Edy offers an interesting conceptual blend of framing and narrative theory that enriches research on collective memory. For example, Edy draws on the compelling work of Hayden White, who continually showed that narratives are means by which conflicting claims of the imaginary and real are mediated and resolved-in story. Collective memory, of course, is an exemplar of such narration.

To ground her analysis, Edy takes up two cases studies of what Victor Turner called "social breaches"-the Watts riot and the 1968 Democratic convention.

Edy analyzes newspaper coverage of the events and news references to the events in years after. She recognizes that television might have been the preferred medium for study, especially for the 1960s when the three networks still dominated American viewing and culture. But nightly news was not archived in 1965, and the Vanderbilt news archives do not catalog content with the level of detail needed, she says, to extract later references to Watts or to the 1968 convention.

She instead chooses a local paper in each area (the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times) and the "national paper of record," the New York Times. She looks for references to the riot and the convention through the years, using the 1992 Rodney King riots as endpoint for one study and the 1996 Democratic convention as the endpoint for the other study.

With this foundation, Edy takes up the role of political elites in shaping collective memory of social conflict; the journalistic process of downplaying remaining controversies and "moving on"; the integration of various stories into coherent wholes; and the use of the past in news narratives of the present, the making of collective memory. …

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