Memory in History

What role does memory play in the creation of historical narratives?

While Michel-Rolph Trouillot does not directly address memory, it seems that the idealized memory of those in power is turned into our textbook history. After the Haitian Revolution, which seemed impossible to many in power, “planters, administrators, politicians, or ideologues found explanations that forced the rebellion back within their worldview, shoving the facts into the proper order of discourse” (Trouillot, 91). Their memory of events, largely influenced by their ideologies, could not conceive of the actual events and so the Haitian Revolution was largely silenced in the historical narrative.

In contrast, Pierre Nora describes a clear divide between history and memory, where memory “is life, borne by living societies” and history, as “an intellectual and secular productions, calls for analysis and criticism” (Nora, 8 – 9). Do the producers of history then have no memory of their own that influences their narratives? Trouillot would seem to indicate exactly the opposite, writing that “[t]he inability to step out of history in order to write or rewrite it applies to all actors and narrators” (Trouillot, 140). For Trouillot, good history must involve “someone’s past,” presumably with voices from those underrepresented in traditional narrativesĀ (Trouillot, 142). Is this closer to Nora’s idea of memory? Does adding new voices and new memories make a more truthful historical narrative?

As practitioners, should we try to separate memory from historical fact or is there a way we can highlight how they are woven together?

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