Remembering “Difficult Memory” – Whose responsibility, what stakes, when?

Hi everyone! I’m really looking forward to tomorrow’s class – and I can’t believe it’s our last one of the semester. The plan is to spend a good amount of time reflecting on what we’ve read and discussed throughout the semester and how we plan to take some of what we’ve learned forward into our own work, thinking about Sergel’s book and Filene’s article. – Erin

One quote from Sergel’s book that really struck me revolves around the questions, to some extent, of private vs. public memory and the role that remembering plays in this question of public memory. In her chapter called “Difficult Memory,” Sergal asserts,

Public Humanities projects that promote a fantastical notion of perpetual progress mask the central question of our own complicity. We have to be rigorous in challenging ourselves to determine if we are actually moving anything or simply keeping communities very busy “remembering” without ever translating those memories into something of use.

Of course, this is not the first time we’ve come across this kind of call to action this semester, but I think it is a fitting point to discuss in our final meeting. There is tremendous value in “remembering” histories – especially ones that have often been “Othered” or existed outside of mainstream narratives. But the question, I think, of why  we remember – closely tied to how we remember – is one that we should continue to interrogate. In my own work, this will potentially take the form of continually working to find ways to connect the history that I study and find important to the lives of real people, living today, ideally in ways that shape their actions and ideas about the world/people around them. But perhaps one of the larger questions here is whether everything must be “remembered” or preserved – and, relatedly, to what extent do individuals versus institutions play integral roles in this preservation?

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