American Memory: Thelen’s “Memory And American History”

Storytelling is a tradition in many if not all cultures.  It develops customs, rituals, and a sense of belonging.  Stories teach and entertain.  Oral history also can change because in telling and retelling, facts fade, opinions enter, story tellers incorporate personal perspective, whether intentional or not.  It takes on a life of its own, spinning out into folklore and myth.   Still, history is a retelling of the past no matter in what form it appears.

David Thelen indicates, “The territory between individual motivation and impersonal myth is natural for historians because its obvious units of study are the particular people and groups that have long been familiar objects of historic research” (1117-8).  The restoration of memory can either be an imaginative adventure of recreation or, like Ruskin believes of restoring architecture, this particular restoration can also be the destruction of events as they occured and places as they were.  Thoughts, however, do not become restored in the same way objects do.  Memories spark with scents, sounds, sudden sights that let the human mind flash back to a moment.  In this case, restoration does not seem destructive.  It recreates to the best of its ability.

In American society, memory equals tradition.  Politicians emerse themselves in tradition and call on people’s nostalgia to promote legacy and maintain traditions.  Patriotism is remembering where we came from.  Thelen uses the memories of Viet Nam to show how nostalgia for apple-pie politics worked to support efforts.  However, the soldiers returning from war had a different experience with memory.  Flashbacks and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are the downfalls of memory.  Here a very distinct division emerges: private personal memories of war versus the public recreation of war.

Americana is America.  Pride is glorification of the past.  History is patriotic.

Advertisements

About Christina M. Rau

Poet, blogger, writer, editor, professor
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to American Memory: Thelen’s “Memory And American History”

  1. Pingback: Returning: Shulberg’s “The Waterfront Revisited” | Rediscovering Brooklyn: A Local Tour De Force

  2. Pingback: The Span: Haw’s The Brooklyn Bridge: A Cultural History | Rediscovering Brooklyn: A Local Tour De Force

  3. Pingback: A World Inside: Roiphe’s “A Coney Island Of The Mind” | Rediscovering Brooklyn: A Local Tour De Force

  4. Pingback: Personal Life Is Life: Hershon’s “Bridges” | Rediscovering Brooklyn: A Local Tour De Force

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s