||This article includes a list of references, related reading or external links, but its sources remain unclear because it lacks inline citations. (August 2012)|
Collective memory refers to the shared pool of information held in the memories of two or more members of a group. Both the English phrase and its French equivalent appeared in various contexts in the second half of the nineteenth century. The philosopher and sociologist Maurice Halbwachs analyzed and advanced the concept in his book La mémoire collective (Paris, 1950). Collective memory can be shared, passed on and constructed by groups both small (e.g., a board of directors) and large (e.g., American culture). In many ways, collective memory parallels individual memory (e.g., better recall for pictures than for words), but also exhibits some key differences and features (e.g., cross-cueing).
- 1 Performance
- 2 Features of collective memory
- 3 Collective memory and memorialization
- 4 Collective memory in mass media
- 5 Various Types of (sub) Memories in the Concept of "Collective Memory"
- 6 Internal and External Collective Memories
- 7 Collective Memory and Major Events
- 8 The Impact of the Passing of Time on the Collective Memory
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
Memory Groups remember more than individuals, as groups are able to draw on the knowledge and experience (i.e., memories) of all individuals present. An example of this is an article written by Norman Brown that incorporated a few experiments testing individual inaccuracies. The first experiment had 15 subjects estimate the month and year of 36 random events some political and non-political. The events ranged from January 1976 to May 1983. They were instructed to think out loud and would be prompted if they fell silent for more than a couple seconds. One prediction made during the experiment was that participants would “frequently justify their responses with reference to one or more auxiliary facts. This experiment yielded that only accurate responses concerning the correct month and year happened 8% of the time. Most of the participants (78%) used auxiliary facts to date events. The second experiment used 40 different events 20 being political and 20 being non-political. The 24 four year undergraduates from the University of Chicago were asked to tell if the event happened during the Carter or Reagan presidency. Then they were asked if the event happened while they were in high school or college. As a side experiment participants were given a reward for answering each question correctly in less than 10 seconds. This trail was done twice for each person. Obviously the second time answers were more accurate and faster. Participants as a whole were able to answer political events faster when deciding which president was in office and were able to answer non-political events faster with high school or college. The third experiment consisted of participants using free-association and a knowledge assessment phase. The 30 students were asked to write down the first current event they could think of related to the shown high knowledge political event, low knowledge political event, high knowledge non-political event, and the low knowledge non-political event. High knowledge events had higher same narrative responses (44%) from the participants. Another example would be members of a group planning a tactical strike against another country are likely to come to a better decision when they work together, rather than alone. One member may be knowledgeable about the terrain and morale of the troops in the country where the strike is planned, while another may be knowledgeable about the home country's weaponry, and another may be knowledgeable about the home country's military morale. Akin to this example, when students are permitted to take examinations as a group, they usually outperform individuals, as each member of the group is knowledgeable in different areas.
Information Gathering Groups are also able to acquire more information than individuals. As individuals often have widely differing experiences, backgrounds, personalities, etc., each can acquire a unique set of information that can be contributed to a group discussion.
Features of collective memory
Free-riding and Social loafing Group members do not remember as much as they have the capacity to remember, as group members engage in free-riding and social loafing. When group members realize - be it implicitly or explicitly - that others will aid in the recall of information, they will put less effort into processing and storing the information. In some situations, these inadequacies in collective memory may be so great that groups are unable to recall previously-made decisions without the aid of a written record (group minutes).
Collaborative Inhibition When groups collaborate to share information, they experience collaborative inhibition, a decrease in performance compared to the memory performance of individuals. Basden, Basden, Bryner, and Thomas (1997) provided evidence that retrieval interference underlies collaborative inhibition, as hearing other members' thoughts and discussion about the topic at hand interferes with one's own organization of thoughts and impairs memory. Additionally, motivational mechanisms may also account for this memory deficit in groups due to social loafing. Explanations for this include:
1. Personal accountability is diminished, as individual contributions are less recognizable in a group. 2. There is a perceived dispensabiltiy of effort – individuals believe that their contribution will not make a difference in the end. 3. Individuals may try to create an equity of effort, in that they will try to match the effort exerted by other group members. By nature this output is low, however, as each member must wait for everyone to take their turn. 4. Diffusion of responsibility: individuals think they are less accountable for group behaviour versus their own behaviour.
However, it has been found that collective inhibition may be due to sources other than social loafing, as offering a monetary incentive have been evidenced to fail to produce an increase in memory for groupsFurther evidence from this study suggest something other than social loafing is at work, as reducing evaluation apprehension – the focus on one’s performance amongst other people – assisted in individuals’ memories but did not produce a gain in memory for groups.Personal accountability – drawing the attention to one’s own performance and contribution in a group – also did not reduce collaborative inhibition. Therefore, group members’ motivation to overcome the interference of group recall cannot be achieved by several motivational factors.
Despite the problem of collaborative inhibition, working in groups may benefit an individual's memory in the long run, as group discussion exposes one to many different ideas over time. Working alone initially prior to collaboration seems to be the optimal way to increase memory.
Cross-cueing Information exchange among group members often helps individuals to remember things that they would not have remembered had they been working alone. In other words, the information provided by Person A may 'cue' memories in Person B. This phenomenon results in enhanced recall.
Transactive memory Members of a group often specialize, to a greater or lesser degree, in different areas. Transactive memory refers to the process by which information that must be remembered is distributed (either explicitly or implicitly) to members of the group who can either be relied upon to provide the information when it is needed. For example, the weapons expert in a group may remember the specifications of a new semi-automatic rifle, while the scout may remember the layout of trenches at enemy lines.
Collective memory and memorialization
The collective memory of a nation is represented in part by the memorials it chooses to erect. Public memory is enshrined in memorials from the newly opened Holocaust memorial in Berlin to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC. Whatever a nation chooses to memorialize in physical monument, or perhaps more significantly, what not to memorialize, is an indicator of the collective memory.
Collective memory is also sustained through a continuous production of representational forms. In our media age - and maybe particularly during the last decade of increasing digitization - this generates a flow of, and production of, second hand memories (see e.g. James E Young). Particular narratives and images are reproduced and reframed, yet also questioned and contested through new images and so forth. Collective memory today differs much from the collective memories of an oral culture, where no printing technique or transportation contributed to the production of imagined communities (see the work of Benedict Anderson in Imagined Communities) where we come to share a sense of heritage and commonality with many human beings we have never met - as in the manner a citizen may feel a sort of 'kinship' with people of his nation, region or city.
The concept of collective memory, initially developed by Halbwachs, has been explored and expanded from various angles - a few of these are introduced below.
James E. Young has introduced the notion of 'collected memory' (opposed to collective memory), marking memory's inherently fragmented, collected and individual character, while Jan Assmann develops the notion of 'communicative memory', a variety of collective memory based on everyday communication. This form of memory is similar to the exchanges in an oral culture or the memories collected (and made collective) through oral history. As another subform of collective memories Assmann mentions forms detached from the everyday, it can be particular materialized and fixed points as, e.g. texts and monuments.
The theory of collective memory was also discussed by ex-Hiroshima resident and atomic bomb survivor, Kiyoshi Tanimoto in his tour of the United States as an attempt to rally support and funding for the reconstruction of his Memorial Methodist Church in Hiroshima. He theorized that the use of the atomic bomb had forever been added to the world's collective memory and would serve in the future as a warning against such devices. See John Hersey's Hiroshima novel.
The idea was also discussed more recently in The Celestine Prophecy and subsequent novels written by James Redfield as a continuing process leading to the eventual trancendance of this plane of existence. The idea that a futuristic development of the collective unconscious and collective memories of society allowing for a medium with which one can transcend ones existence is an idea expressed in certain variations of new age religions.
Collective memory in mass media
||The examples and perspective in this section deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (December 2010)|
The arrival of film created many images, film scenes, news scenes, photographs, quotes, and songs, which became very familiar to regular moviegoers and remained in their collective memory. Images of particular movie stars became part of collective memory. During cinema visits, people could watch newsreels of news stories from around the world. For the first time in history a mass audience was able to view certain stories, events, and scenes, all at the same time. They could all view how for instance the Hindenburg disaster was caught on camera and see and remember these scenes all at once.
When television became a global mass entertainment medium in the 1950s and 1960s the collective memory of former cinema visitors increased when various films could be repeated endlessly and worldwide on television broadcasts. For example old films like The Wizard of Oz, King Kong and cartoons like Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry have been shown internationally and almost non stop on television channels. Hereby particular film scenes have become well-known, even to people who had not seen these films on their original cinematic release. The same applies for television shows like I Love Lucy which have been repeated so often over the decades that certain episodes and scenes have become classics.
When newsreels in the cinema gradually made place for television news broadcasting, it became a habit for mass audiences to watch the daily news on television. Worldwide this led to a new kind of collective memory where various news events could be shown much quicker than with the cinema News Reels. Therefore certain filmed news stories could be shown on the same day they happened and even live during the broadcast itself. Millions of people have viewed the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, the landing of Apollo 11 in 1969, the Wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana (1981) and the September 11 attacks on their television. In fact, certain questions like "What were you doing when.... happened?", usually referring to a large, heavily mediatized event, have become a very important question in the history of the development of the collective memory.
Many people can remember what they were doing when certain internationally big media events occurred and these type of questions are usually used as a sort of milestone in individual people's life. For example, "What were you doing when you heard that John Lennon was shot?". Due to television repeats, these moments could be relived even long after the actual event happened. The introduction of video stores and video recorders in the 1980s, the Internet in the 1990s and the DVD player and Youtube in the 2000s even increased the opportunity to view and check out famous and infamous movie and TV scenes.
Thanks to all these innovations certain scenes have become part of audiences' collective memory. This makes it easy for journalists, comedians, advertisers, politicians, etc. to make references to these scenes, knowing that a large audience will recognise and understand them without further explanation. For example, when president Ronald Reagan concluded a speech on March 13, 1985 against the increase of taxes he said "Make my day". Most people in the audience and TV viewers understood the reference to the Clint Eastwood film Sudden Impact and laughed and cheered as a consequence of that. The dance moves from Michael Jackson's music video for "Thriller" have been repeatedly shown on TV so much that they are instantly recognizable and therefore imitated frequently for comedic effect in films, TV shows, commercials, etc.
Whenever a comedy show or film features a scene where someone is killed or threatened in a shower, most people understand it as a parody of Psycho. Various cartoons from Bugs Bunny to Shrek have spoofed famous fairy tales, knowing that everybody is familiar with the original stories and will immediately laugh at every deviation. The roar of movie monster Godzilla and Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan yell have become instantly recognizable and easy to put into a context, even without the images.
Numerous TV shows and films such as The Simpsons, Family Guy, Scary Movie, the Shrek films, and the films of Mel Brooks, have referenced, parodied, imitated and recreated these famous scenes, often to the point of overkill. Certain observers, like Kenneth Tynan in a quote from his diaries from October 19, 1975 have noted that due to the heavy rotation and repeats of all these famous film scenes, often even without their original context, they have become of the cultural consciousness. He wrote: "Nobody took into account the tremendous impact that would be made by the fact that films are permanent and easily accessible from childhood onward. As the sheer number of films piles up, their influence will increase, until we have a civilization entirely molded by cinematic values and behavior patterns." (Quoted from TYNAN, Kenneth, The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan, Bloomsbury, 2001, page 66).
The influence of television scenes on collective memory has been noticeable with children who are able to quote lines and songs from commercials, films and television shows they have watched regularly. Some young children who have watched a large amount of television have been known to react in an unnatural way to certain situations, comparable with overacting, because they recreate scenes they remember seeing in similar situations on television. There have been cases reported of people who've compared their own life too much with the romanticized, idealized life depicted in films and television series. They try to recreate the happy families, perfect love relationships, they remember seeing on television or in movies.
Not all scenes that were once collective memory are remembered as well today. Certain shows, commercials and films that were popular in one decade are shown less frequently on television in the next. Thus, certain scenes do not rest in the collective memory of the next generation. Many references in old Bugs Bunny cartoons to Hollywood stars and radio shows who were famous in the 1940s, are almost obscure now to modern viewers. On the other hand certain scenes have remained in the collective memory, due to being so constantly repeated in other media and are well known even for people not familiar with the original film. For example, even people who never saw the film King Kong know that there is a scene in which the big gorilla climbs the Empire State Building with a human girl in his hand. This is yet another negative evolution of the multireferential films and television shows.
Younger audiences, unfamiliar with the original subject being referenced in a contemporary film or TV series, do not recognize the reference and assume that, for instance a Twilight Zone plot reference in The Simpsons has been thought up by the creators of The Simpsons instead of the other way around. In some cases, references or parodies of older movies in contemporary films and TV shows are almost comparable to plagiarism since they just mimic or imitate a famous scene frame-by-frame instead of adding a funny new element.
Various Types of (sub) Memories in the Concept of "Collective Memory"
"Collective memory is a general category that includes several main kinds of memories. First is the popular memory, defined by David Midelton and Derek Edwards as representations of the past held by the society’s members, and it is best manifesteddirectly by public opinion surveys. This memory significantly influences the psychological dynamics mentioned above and thebehavioral reactions of the people holding it, and therefore, it isaccorded great importance. The second kind is the official memory,according to Jeffrey Olick: the representations of the past adopted bythe institutions of the state. This memory is manifested, for instance,by publications of state ministries and the army, exhibitions innational museums, and textbooks approved for use in the educationalsystem. Third is the autobiographical memory, that of the peoplewho directly experienced the events, manifested typically in memoirsand oral histories. This is a primary source for the past (in addition todocuments) and is therefore usually accorded importance. Fourth is the historical memory, the way the research community—mostly academicsas well as independent scholars—views the event in its studiesof the past. Fifth and final is the cultural memory defined by Ian Assmann as the way the society views its past via newspaper articles,memorials, monuments, films, and buildings. The significance of the latter four kinds of memories is mostly that they influence the popularmemory. In addition, official memory has its own separate importance: it represents nations in the international arena and thereforeinfluences foreign relations."
Internal and External Collective Memories
Each of the above types of sub memories is divided into internal and external memories. Internal memory is simply the way a person, institution, group or country see the events of the past, while external memory is the way these entities present these events in public. For example regarding the historical memory: the scholars of the academy can internally believe in a certain narrative about the events of the past (e.g., that their country conduct war crimes during a war in participated in), while externally present in their studies their country as not conducting any war crimes. Similarly about the official memory or the autobiographical memory. The gap between the internal and external memories can be an outcome of various reasons. In the latter example of the country's conduct in a war it can be due to the wish of the scholars to present their country more positively in order to mobilize the citiznes to be patriotic or in order to avoid sanctions in case they presented in public their country negatively.
Collective Memory and Major Events
Collective memory is assembled around major past events, which are of special importance to the given societies. Such are, for example, the massacre the Japanese conducted in 1937 in the Chinese citizens of the city of Nanking, the 1930s economic depression in the U.S., the 1492 discovery of the American continent, or the Palestinian exodus during the 1948 Israeli-Arab/Palestinian War. The following discussion addresses the Israeli memory of this exodus, though other case studies are likely to support this description and/or provide more aspects to it.
There are four main Manifestation Characteristics of major events in the memory sphere: (1) the frequency of their discussion in the public sphere - the higher the frequency, the more likely that an event is more central; and the reverse; (2) The extent of discussion in the public sphere - when an event is discussed (frequently or not) it can be discussed widely or not; in a sentence or a whole book. The wider the discussion is, this is a manifestation of its being a major event; (3) What is being said about an event - if it is said about an event that it is central, its a manifestation that it is such; and the reverse; (4) Whether a public controversy occurred regarding an event - when it does, it shows the event's centrality. In sum, these characteristics allow us to trace and define events as major events.
Major events have two main impacts on the memory of the inclusive topic that they address: (1) Direction of impact - the memory of an event can increase or decrease the hegemony of a certain narrative in a given society. For example, until the late 1970s, Israel argued that the Palestinian residents of the main cities of Lydda and Ramla left willingly. This supported the hegemony in Israel of the Zionist narrative which claimed that all the Palestinians refugees left willingly in 1948. Since the late 1970s, however, when testimonies of Jewish veterans of the 1948 War and documents revealed that expulsion did take place from these two cities - this decreased the hegemony in Israel of the inclusive Zionist narrative of the exodus. (2) The extent of impact - a certain major event can increase of decrease the hegemony of a certain narrative to various degrees, a lot or insignificantly.
The factors that shape the above Manifestation Characteristics and the impacts are divided into two categories: (1) Factors that are related to the characteristics of the events in the past, while they occurred (e.g., hoe many people were expelled); (2) Factors that are related to the characteristics of the events in the present - e.g., the seniority of the people who exposed the expulsions.
The Impact of the Passing of Time on the Collective Memory
The passing of time has diverse significant impacts on the collective memory. Addressing, for example, the collective memory of conflicts, four main categories of factors can be addressed: (1) Generally, the situation of the context - the conflict (active or not), the given society (its economy, cohesiveness, etc.), the approach of the international community to reconciliation processes, etc.; (2) The extent of time that has passed since the given event has occurred - e.g., on the one hand, as times passes, the extent of secrecy about the events decreases, leading to the declassification of archival documents and war veterans provide testimonies, all of which can reveal more truth about the conflict. On the other hand, as time passes the memory of the direct-experience people (e.g., veterans and refugees) can deteriorate, providing less accurate descriptions of the past. (3) The extent of time that has passed since a country was established - wars often take place in connection to the establishment of countries. This establishment requires great efforts from the citizens, and therefore the countries try to mobilize them by presenting to them narratives of the conflicts that present them (the countries) very positively, often in a biased and unrealistic manner. As time passes, and the countries are more established and feel secure in their existence, they see less need to distorted the narratives of the conflict in their favor. (4) The extent of time that has passed since a peace agreement has been signed - the more such time passes, the more the psychological damages are healed, allow for adopting less biased narratives of the conflict.
- Collective intelligence, Distributed cognition
- Collective consciousness
- Collective unconscious
- Selective omission - biaises to taboo some elements of a collective memory .
- Brown, N. R. (1990). Organization of public events in long-term memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 119(3), 297-314. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0096-3422.214.171.1247
- Stasson, M.F.; Bradshaw, S. D. (1995). "Explanations of individual-group performance differences: What sort of 'bonus' can be gained through group interaction?". Small Group Research 26 (2): 296–308.
- Henningsen, D. D.; Henningsen, M. L. M. (2007). "Do groups know what they don't know? Dealing with missing information in decision-making groups.". Communication Research 35 (5): 507–525.
- Weldon,M.S.,Blair,C.,&Huebsch,P.D.(2000). Group Remembering:Does Social Loafing Underlie Collaborative Inhibition? Journal of Experimental Psychology:Learning,Memory and Cognition,26,1568-1577
- Nets-Zehngut, Rafi. (2012). The passing of time and the collective memory of conflicts. Peace and Change, 37 (2), 253-285; and see also: Nets-Zehngut, Rafi. (2012). Internal and external collective memories – Israel and the 1948 Palestinian exodus. International Journal of Conflict and Violence, 6 (1), 126-140.
- Nets-Zehngut, Rafi. (2012). Internal and external collective memories – Israel and the 1948 Palestinian exodus. International Journal of Conflict and Violence, 6 (1), 126-140.
- Nets-Zehngut, R. (2013). Major events and the collective memory of conflicts. International Journal of Conflict Management 24 (3), 209-230.
- Nets-Zehngut, R. (2012). The passing of time and the collective memory of conflicts. Peace and Change, 37 (2), 253-285.
- Jan Assmann: Religion and Cultural Memory: Ten Studies, Stanford UP 2005
- Maurice Halbwachs: On Collective Memory, Univ of Chicago Press, 1992, ISBN 0-226-11596-8
- Pennebaker, James W. Paez, Dario. Rime, Bernard: Collective memory of political events : social psychological perspectives, Mahwah, New Jersey. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: 1997.
- Olick, Jeffrey K.: The Politics of Regret: On Collective Memory and Historical Responsibility, Routledge, 2007
- Fritsch, Matthias: The Promise of Memory: History and Politics in Marx, Benjamin, and Derrida, State University of New York Press, 2006
- Olick, Jeffrey K.: In the House of the Hangman: The Agonies of German Defeat,1943-1949, University of Chicago Press, 2005.
- Cole, Jennifer: Forget colonialism? : sacrifice and the art of memory in Madagascar, Berkeley [etc.] : Univ. of California Press, 2001 
- Lipsitz, George: Time Passages : Collective Memory and American Popular Culture, Minneapolis. University of Minnesota Press: 2001.
- Neal, Arthur G.: National Trauma and Collective Memory: Major Events in the American Century. Armonk, N.Y. M.E. Sharpe: 1998
- Nets-Zehngut, Rafi. (2012). Overview of the Israeli memory of the Palestinian refugee problem. Peace Review, 24 (2), 187-194.
- Nets-Zehngut, Rafi. (2011). Palestinian autobiographical memory regarding the 1948 Palestinian exodus. Political Psychology,32 (2), 271-295.
- Olick, Jeffrey K., Vered Vinitzky-Seroussi, and Daniel Levy, eds. The Collective Memory Reader. Oxford University Press: 2011.
- Prucha, Francis Paul. Handbook for Research in American History: A Guide to Bibliographies and Other Reference Works. University of Nebraska Press: 1987
- Encyclopedia of American Social History. Ed. Mary Clayton et al. 3 vols. New York: Scribner, 1993.
- Blazek, Ron and Perrault, Anna. United States History: A Selective Guide to Information Sources. Englewood, Colorado. Libraries Unlimited: 1994
- Au Yeung, Ching Man and Jatowt, Adam: Studying How the Past is Remembered: Towards Computational History through Large Scale Text Mining, Proceedings of the 20th ACM Conference on Information and Knowledge Management (CIKM 2011), ACM Press 
- For a Sociology of Collective Memory short discussion with bibliography of French works by Marie-Claire Lavabre, Research Director at CNRS - Centre Marc Bloch (CEVIPOF)
- Interdisciplinary Study of Memory Site by John Sutton, Philosophy Department, Macquarie University, Sydney. Links to many bibliographies
- "History in the Public Sphere: Analyzing Collective Memory" course by Harold Marcuse, History Department, University of California, Santa Barbara. With bibliography and links to readings.