James W. Pennebaker
Southern Methodist University
Families, neighborhoods, cities, regions, and entire cultures are bound together by a shared set of beliefs, experiences, and memories. These shared histories cement individuals' identities with the groups to which they belong. Some of the historic memories are fixed events that were experienced by virtually all members of the group--an accident, a natural disaster, a birth, or a death. Other shared memories are not memories at all, but rather shared presumed memories or histories--for example, the group's members assume that their ancestors fought for a particular cause several generations earlier.
Powerful collective memories--whether real or concocted--can be at the root of wars, prejudice, nationalism, and cultural identities. For example, in the United States, citizens "remember" how they single-handedly defeated the Germans in World War II. Not surprisingly, Russians, British, and French nationals remember the defeat of Germany in very different ways. The assassination of John F. Kennedy was initially thought to be the act of a lone gunman who desperately sought the attention of others. Thirty years later, a majority of Americans "remember" Kennedy's assassination as the result of a conspiracy--perhaps with the complicity of the U.S. government. No overwhelming evidence exists to support either memory. Where do these memories come from and how do they exert such remarkable power over a culture? Further, how do these collective cultural memories remain alive across generations--often in the face of contradictory evidence?
The purpose of this book is to explore the creation, maintenance, and distortions of collective memories of societal events from several social