“A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Only two things, actually, constitute this soul, this spiritual principle…. One is the possession in common of a rich legacy of remembrances; the other is the actual consent, the desire to live together, the will to continue to value the heritage which all hold in common.” Ernest Renan’s ( 1947 1:903) observation reveals much truth, but we need to know more. If nations distinguish themselves by what citizens remember about their past, we need to know how they remember collectively. How do they conceive the virtues—and the sins—of their common past?
This chapter, a comparative survey, places Korean undergraduates’ judgments of their nation’s past against the background of American students rendering judgments of theirs. Besides naming the three events in which they take greatest pride and the three they deem most shameful, students responded to a series of questions tapping their political values and their attitudes about relevant social issues. These data are important not only for what they tell us about Korean national memory but also for what they add to the broader agenda of collective memory study. Recent collective memory research, especially studies of the politics of memory (Bodnar 1992; Gillis 1994; Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983), often challenge the official versions of historical events, but they tell us little about the way ordinary people judge the past. In the theory of the politics of memory, people are manipulated by the state to adopt flattering views