Framing Public Memory

Framing Public Memory

Framing Public Memory

Framing Public Memory


A collection of essays by prominent scholars from many disciplines on the construction of public memories. The study of public memory has grown rapidly across numerous disciplines in recent years, among them American studies, history, philosophy, sociology, architecture, and communications. As scholars probe acts of collective remembrance, they have shed light on the cultural processes of memory. Essays contained in this volume address issues such as the scope of public memory, the ways we forget, the relationship between politics and memory, and the material practices of memory. Stephen Browne's contribution studies the alternative to memory erasure, silence, and forgetting as posited by Hannah Arendt in her classic Eichmann in Jerusalem. Rosa Eberly writes about the Texas tower shootings of 1966, memories of which have been minimized by local officials. Charles Morris examines public reactions to Larry Kramer's declaration that Abraham Lincoln was homosexual, horrifying the guardians of Lincoln'spublic memory. And Barbie Zelizer considers the impact on public memoryof visual images, specifically still photographs of individuals about to perish (e.g., people falling from the World Trade Center) and the sense of communal loss they manifest. Whether addressing the transitory and mutable nature of collective memories over time or the ways various groups maintain, engender, or resist those memories, this work constitutes a major contribution to our understanding of how public memory has been and might continue to be framed.


Kendall R. Phillips

“Public memory” has become a familiar key term in the humanities and social sciences. The last twenty years have seen a rapid proliferation of the term’s use in such disciplines as architecture, communication studies, English, history, philosophy, political science, religion, rhetoric, and sociology. The rapid growth in the transdisciplinary study of public memory can also be seen in the number of published case studies and the amount of material encompassed within this rubric, from monuments to television programs and museums to city streets.

Some sense of public memory is evident in human civilization as far back as we can reckon. Recognition of the importance of collective remembrance is clearly part of the pyramids of ancient Egypt, for instance, or the eulogies of ancient Greece. In part the systematic study of collective memories can be traced to the work of French sociologist Maurice Halbwachs in the 1920s. Halbwachs, following Durkheim’s notion of collective conscience, contends that all acts of memory are inherently social—literally that to remember is to act as part of the collective. In turn our collectivity is deeply intertwined with our capacity for and enactment of remembrance. Halbwachs’s insights, however, were largely underappreciated until the rapid development of public memory studies in the 1980s and 1990s.

The present volume is an intervention into the broad and rapidly expanding transdisciplinary study of public memory. By bringing together scholars from various disciplines, Framing Public Memory seeks to promote a broader reflection on the current state of public memory studies and a consideration of some of the pressing questions to which future students of public memory might profitably attend. To this end, the collected essays . . .

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