Historical “memory”

Posted on December 23, 2008 by


Noting a post elsewhere, I thought that perhaps it might be interesting to take a deeper look at what it means when one says “Civil War Memory.” However, before getting to “Civil War Memory,” it might be best to start off with basic historical “memory.”

Historical “memory” is an interesting thing to consider. Specifically, I’m interested in the way that people “remember” (aka, “memory”) both events that occured and people who lived outside the time of their own lifetime, and within the first three centuries since English colonization of North America. “Memory” may not be the most accurate word I can use to define this interest… or maybe it is.

It may not be the most accurate word because, to some people, it suggests something that isn’t possible, especially within the parameters of history that I have defined as my area of study. How, for example, can I say that I have any “memory” whatsoever of the Civil War? Since I did not experience the war, sensory memory is not possible. I can have neither short-term or long-term memory of the war as a result of a “realized” witness-type experiences. I have no “living” or, more accurately, no “autobiographical memory” of the war.

Then again, “memory” may be an accurate word to use because “memory” of the Civil War does exists in many of us, but it can only exist as “learned memory.” We did not experience events, but we have been privy to a number of “feeds” that are truly a part of our memory. These “feeds” are part of our life experience. Whether a person is exposed only to one viewing of Gone With the Wind or a multitude of “Civil War feeds,” the different “feeds” have bearing on the way that we reflect on the history of the war… and the way that we relate that history to others.

Yet, before I get too far away from this concept of “feeds,” keep in mind that raw data delivered to us is not raw data received and left unprocessed. As a part of the cognitive process, this data is processed. Inevitably, we will turn-over the data, in our heads, to make something of it. Some refer to this as transderivational search (TDS), which is an automatic and unconscious state of internal focus and processing (I’m intrigued with even this incomplete defintion available at Wikipedia). The point is, however, that TDS is still part of the development of a person’s “memory.”

The potential problems of this process will be better left for another post, but when it comes to this “learned memory,” there may be more to the impact of “things” in the way we relate history to others. If our history comes from what we learn, and we relate this history to another, does the original “feed” of history received by us retain its original state in the process of relating to another? In all probability, we will distort it, and if we do, even ever so slightly, how will that carry down?

Again, keep in mind, this post is solely about historical “memory.”

More for another day then.