Paul Connerton on the fundamental difference between doing history and doing memory studies.

From an interview in Cabinet magazine entitled Historical Amnesias conducted by Jeffrey Kastner, and Sina Najaf.

Historians, in other words, investigate evidence in much the same way as lawyers cross-question witnesses in a court; they extract from that evidence information which it does not explicitly contain or even information which was contrary to the overt assertions contained in it. Historians are able to reject something explicitly told to them in their evidence and to substitute their own interpretation of events in its place. And even if they do accept what a previous statement tells them, they do this not because that statement exists but because that statement is judged to satisfy the historian’s criteria of historical truth. Far from relying on authorities other than themselves, historians are their own authority; their thought is autonomous vis-à-vis their evidence, in the sense that they possess criteria by reference to which that evidence is criticized. Historical reconstruction is therefore not dependent on social memory. It is autonomous with regard to social memory. This, I would say, is the fundamental difference between doing history and doing memory studies.

They go on to discuss how the  twentieth century led to the development of  an ethics of memory and Connerton’s concept of a taxonomy of forgetting.


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