What is Historical Memory? - Biases & Examples

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson goes over the concept of history, the past, and historical memory. You'll also learn about numerous examples of how historical memory can be biased.

A Personal History

Is it possible for history to be recorded in more than one way even when looking at exactly the same event? The answer is a resounding yes. In fact, maybe you've had such an experience. Perhaps you recall that you beat your brother at a game of 21 when you were kids but he recalls that he actually beat you.

This is where the concept of historical memory and its associated (potential) biases come in.

Let's go over these concepts in this lesson.

History vs. the Past

Before we jump into the topic of historical memory we need to be clear about the concepts of history and the past. This will help you understand historical memory a bit better.

The past is the entire collection of absolutely everything that has ever happened anywhere in the universe prior to this moment. This could be wars, supernova explosions, your cousin Tim getting married, Brazil wining the FIFA World Cup, and Julius Caesar thinking about what he should eat for breakfast the day he got killed. All that is the past.

History is often used synonymously with the past but it should actually be distinguished from the past. History is the study, interpretation, and recording of past events and their recollections in a way that gives meaning to people.

That game of 21 you played with your brother is in the past. It is part of the past. Your interpretation of who won is a part of history.

Historical Memory

Now that you can distinguish between the two, let's define the concept of historical memory. Historical memory refers to the way by which groups of people create and then identify with specific narratives about historical periods or events. Historical memory is sometimes also called collective memory or social memory and is a dependent upon things like:

  • Familial memory, which are memories that family's create and then pass down of their own experiences.
  • Religious memory, if a religious entity is an important entity when it comes to a group of people's storytelling and thus creation of memories.
  • National memory, which is like the official memory recognized by a nation.

Historical memories help form the social and political identities of groups of people and they can be changed with respect to present moments.

Examples of Biases

This is where the whole notion of bias in historical memory comes in. Historical memory is fluid because history is not the same thing as the past. History is the interpretation of the past and because it's an interpretation, the past can be skewed in a different light based on present moment and personal biases in time. These can later change and so history can be re-written and recalled differently once again.

For example, think of how differently Confederate statues are recalled by people in the U.S. For one group of people, those Confederate statues are tributes to fallen heroes or simply an acknowledgment of the past, good or bad. For others, their historical memory is very different. Those statues represent slavery and racism.

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