Les Lieux de Mémoire

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A lieu de mémoire (site of memory) is a concept popularized by the French historian Pierre Nora in his three-volume collection Les Lieux de Mémoire (published in part in English translation as Realms of Memory).[1]


In Nora's words, "A lieu de mémoire is any significant entity, whether material or non-material in nature, which by dint of human will or the work of time has become a symbolic element of the memorial heritage of any community (in this case, the French community)"[2] It may refer to any place, object or concept vested with historical significance in the popular collective memory, such as a monument, a museum, an event, a symbol like a flag or the French figure Marianne, even a colour vested with historical memory (the red flag of left politics, for instance). According to La Commission franco-québécoise sur les lieux de mémoire communs (French-Québécois Commission for Common Sites of Memory) a lieu de mémoire signifies the cultural landmarks, places, practices and expressions stemming from a shared past, whether material (monuments) or intangible (language and traditions).[3]

As sites of memory became better known and made official by governments, they can tend to homogenize varied local memories. In Nora's words: “In the past, then, there was one national history and there were many particular memories. Today, there is one national memory, but its unity stems from a divided patrimonial demand that is constantly expanding and in search of coherence.”[4] Thus sites of memory may risk becoming "invented traditions".

The concept has been listed in Le Grand Robert de la langue française, the authoritative French dictionary, and studied by scholars and others. There are attempts made to map sites of memory globally.[5] Quebec and France have a joint commission to identify and codify sites of memory. An International Coalition of Sites of Conscience of more than 200 museums, monuments and other institutions around the world uses the concept to group "sites, individuals, and initiatives activating the power of places of memory to engage the public in connecting past and present in order to envision and shape a more just and humane future.".[6]

Calling attention to the importance of "social forgetting", historian Guy Beiner has argued that "there is an evident need for major historical studies of lieux d’oubli to counterbalance the studies of lieux de mémoire."[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ P. Nora, Realms of Memory: Rethinking the French past
  2. ^ Pierre Nora, "Preface to English Language Edition: From Lieux de memoire to Realms of Memory", in Realms of Memory: Rethinking the French Past ed. Pierre Nora. http://faculty.smu.edu/bwheeler/Joan_of_Arc/OLR/03_PierreNora_LieuxdeMemoire.pdf
  3. ^ Commission franco-québécoise sur les lieux de mémoire communs, "Lieux de mémoire," http://cfqlmc.org/lieux-de-memoire (French-language link)
  4. ^ Nora, “The Era of Commemoration” in Realms of Memory: The Construction of the French Past, vol. 3
  5. ^ Mark Hatlie, Sites of Memory: Historical Markers, Memorials, Monuments, and Cemeteries, http://sites-of-memory.de/main/location.html
  6. ^ International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, "about us," http://www.sitesofconscience.org/about-us/
  7. ^ Guy Beiner, Forgetful Remembrance: Social Forgetting and Vernacular Historiography of a Rebellion in Ulster (Oxford University Press, 2018), p. 29.

Further reading[edit]

  • Legg, Stephen, "Contesting and surviving memory: space, nation, and nostalgia in Les Lieux de Mémoire," Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 23,4 (2005): 481–50.
  • Nora, Pierre, ed. P. Realms of Memory: Rethinking the French past (University of Chicago Press, 1998)
  • Alcaraz, Emmanuel, Les lieux de mémoire de la guerre d'indépendance algérienne, Thèse, Paris, Université Paris XIII, 2012.
  • Mathieu, Jacques et Jacques Lacoursière, Les mémoires quebecoises, Quebec, Presses de l’université Laval, 1991.