05 February 2014

Does This Distort "Memory" Studies In History?

I found the following quote from an article titled, Remembrance or revision? Brain study shows memory misleads, quite interesting when reflecting upon the political and ideological conformity of most "memory studies" in regards to our nation's history:
"It seems like a basic function of memory is that it is built to change," Bridge said. "It’s built to adapt to what is currently important to us." [Emphasis mine.]
Particularly when you consider this observation from a recent National Association of Scholars study:
. . . the root of the problem is that colleges and universities have drifted from their main mission. They and particular programs within them, increasingly think of themselves as responsible for reforming American society . . . 
Yes, a lot of educators and "objective" historians are certainly on a mission, as they recently reminded us. But what's "currently important" is not necessarily true. As I've said before, modern historiography is obsessed with the latest fad, like so much of American pop-culture, it seems to have a rather juvenile mindset - Botox for the brain. Of course, the "brain study" would, if accurate, cut across all ideological perspectives but it seems to be particularly applicable these days.

So, do you believe that academia's obsessions with certain perspectives and "what is currently important" to them could be misleading and distorting their "memory" studies?

Source.

4 comments:

ropelight said...

Memory is a shaky proposition, the issue reminds me of the Recovered Memory craze of the late '80s and early '90s where pseudo-psychologists persuaded wealthy and gullible middle-aged clients they suffered from suppressed memories of gory childhood sexual abuse, usually involving incest, memories which could be revealed and treated only after a lengthy series of expensive therapy sessions.

After too many families were torn apart with baseless accusations, the movement was unmasked as false-memory, or planted-memory syndrome and many of the practitioners were exposed as deluded or self-serving charlatans.

Simultaneously, equally specious child-care sexual abuse hysteria gripped the public imagination as scary allegations often including Satanic rituals and animal mutilation dominated the news. For nearly a decade innocent day-care providers were sent to prison on the coerced testimony of pre-school children. The Kern County California and McMartin cases are prime examples. Some individuals were incarcerated for years before the truth finally came out.

We know that memory fades over time and that memories themselves tend to become highly convenient as circumstances change. Of course interpretation is always both fluid and flexible, unusually so as it relates to current events.

So, in response to the question is it possible academia's obsessions with certain perspectives and "what is currently important" to them... misleading and distorting their "memory" studies? the evidence shows it's unlikely to be otherwise?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Howdy Rope. Memory is, indeed, a shaky proposition. Confederates after the war succumbed to the same temptations as do academics today. We're all guilty to some extent. But as I've pointed out before, academics won't admit it, at least not intentionally admit it.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting that the "control of information," and the "control of perceptions," are among the common characteristics of cults.

Primary "information" about the War of Subjugation is at our fingertips on the internet. Official CW Records, complete with indices, are one example. Newspapers with search options are another example. So it is hard to "control information" nowadays.

Likewise it would seem hard for anybody in particular to "control" perceptions of such a well-documented event. It is kind of hard to erase "Gone with the Wind" out of your mind, for example. People probably "remember" a good movie much better than they "remember" a textbook's civil war chapter comissioned by politicians.

It is also interesting to compare comments about the institution of slavery with comments about military institutions, regarding authority, submission, service, abuse, legality, etc.

For example, at one time during the War, the rebellious governor of Mass. complained that Mass. soldiers were being ordered to surrender fugitive slaves, harbored in camp, to their masters.

How was this any different from Virginia's rebellious governor who refused to furnish Lincoln with troops at the beginning of the war. He said, "Your object is to subjugate the South."

It is kind of hard to trap the "right perceptions" into a box and coerce the general public to accept that perspective only. Those days were gone after reconstruction and the end of martial law in the South. The reactions to such things can be found in reconstruction era newspapers on the internet, such as the Staunton Spectator in Virginia.

The blogs and comments today don't sound much different from those found in vintage "War of Subjugation" newspapers online.

Except that those papers were much better at "rhetoric," which was taught in schools back then. I get the feeling that "rhetoric" is a bad word nowadays, and politically incorrect in some circles. I wonder why the subject vanished in the late 19th century? Control of perceptions?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"Primary "information" about the War of Subjugation is at our fingertips on the internet. Official CW Records, complete with indices, are one example. Newspapers with search options are another example. So it is hard to "control information" nowadays."

Yes it is. Obviously, both sides spun the facts, just as goes on today. The trick is to be conscious of it and look beyond the spin. This is when our biases trip us up, if we're not careful. It's easy to "open wide and swallow" when you like what's being spooned to you.

Thanks for commenting.