Collective Memory of Political Events: Social Psychological Perspectives

By James W. Pennebaker; Dario Paez et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
The Generational Basis of Historical Knowledge

Howard Schuman

University of Michigan

Robert F. Belli

University of Michigan

Katherine Bischoping

York University, Toronto

The research discussed here tests more literally than Mannheim perhaps intended, the claim that "I only really possess those 'memories' that I have created directly for myself, only that 'knowledge' I have personally gained in real situations. This is the only sort of knowledge which really 'sticks' and it alone has real binding power" ( 1928/ 1952, p. 296). Moreover, an even stronger hypothesis can be drawn from his view that adolescence and early adulthood are a stage of life uniquely open to gaining knowledge about the larger world: "It is only then that life's problems begin to be located in a 'present' and are experienced as such. . . . The 'up-to-dateness' of youth therefore consists in their being closer to the 'present' problems . . . the older generation cling to the re-orientation that had been the drama of their youth" ( 1928/ 1952, pp. 300-301). Thus, knowledge of events should not only be acquired primarily from personally experienced situations, but should occur especially for events experienced during adolescence or early adulthood.

Schuman and Scott ( 1989)--stimulated by Mannheim ( 1928/ 1952) ideas on personal experience and generational effects, and of Halbwachs ( 1950/ 1980) and others on collective memory--showed that attributions of importance to national and world events of the past half century tend to be a function of having experienced an event during adolescence or early adulthood.1 However, their basic open-ended question to a cross-section of

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1
Similar results have been obtained by Scott and Zac ( 1993) using English data and by Schuman, Rieger, and Gaidys using Lithuanian data ( 1994). Interesting corroborative

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