On Media Memory: Collective Memory in a New Media Age

On Media Memory: Collective
Memory in a New Media Age
Motti Neiger, Oren Meyers
and Eyal Zandberg, eds.
Collective Memory: Terms and
How would you define the term „collective
memory”? What do you think, which disciplines are
involved in studying this phenomenon?
Def.: a shared pool of information held in the
memories of two or more members of a group
(Maurice Halbwachs, 1950). The term was originally
coined by Hugo Van Hofmannsthal in 1902.
Halbwach’s central argument: „social groups
construct their own images of the world by
constantly shaping and reshaping versions of the
past”. What does it mean that the past is shaped
and reshaped according to the needs of the
Collective Memory: Collectivities
1: Groups, Social Groups
Group: groups remember more than individuals, as
groups are able to draw on the knowledge and
experience (i.e., memories) of all individuals present;
better performance: each member of the group is
knowledgeable in different areas. Do you see any
similarity between this definition of collective memory
and Haraway’s notion of situated knowledges?
Social groups: the basic assumption is that „every
social group develops a memory of its past; a memory
that emphasizes its uniqueness and allows it to
preserve its self-image and pass it on to future
generations” Why is it important to study the
collective memories of different social groups?
Collective Memory:
Collectivities 2: Nations
Nation: The collective memory of a nation is represented in
part by the memorials it chooses to erect. E.g. Vietnam
veterans War Memorial in Washington D.C.; Hősök tere in
Whatever a nation chooses to memorialise in physical
monument, or perhaps more significantly, what not to
memorialise, is an indicator of the collective memory. Why
is it significant to pay attention to what is not memorialised?
Based on Benedict Anderson’s notion of „imagined
communities”: Collective memory today differs much from
the collective memories of an oral culture, where no printing
technique or transportation contributed to the production of
the nation where we come to share a sense of heritage
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.” Why does Anderson talk about
emotions (feeling kinship etc.) when he defines the nation?
Collective Memory in the
Media Age 1: Film, TV
Collective memory has to redefined in the media age: a flow of,
and production of, second hand memories is generated What
does second hand memory mean? What would be first hand
The arrival of film in the first half of the 20th century created
many images, film scenes, news scenes, photographs, quotes,
and songs, which became very familiar to regular moviegoers
and remained in their collective memory.
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 (Oz, King Kong, Tom and
Jerry shown internationally and non-stop) – the process is similar
to how the nation was imagined in the 18th century according to
Anderson: appearance of the novel, newspaper, ritualistic
(collective) reading, etc.
Collective Memory in the
Media Age 2: Newsreels
Newsreels: 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 2001 attacks
on their television. + Internet. 1990s; Youtube: 2000s
The impact of the media age on collective memory:
„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.” (Kenneth Tynan)
Can we take the media seriously as creator/disseminator of
collective memories?
Media Memory: the Main
Issues Addressed
Def.: „the systematic exploration of collective
pasts that are narrated by the media, through the
use of the media, and about the media”
What kinds of versions of the past are shaped by
the different media?
How does media memory indicate sociological and
political changes?
How to evaluate new „archives” (YouTube, online
databases, etc.)
Can we treat these sites as archives at all?
Why/why not?
The Impact of the TV
Collective memory is tied up with public articulation
(rituals, ceremonial commemorations, mass media
texts). It is an inherenty mediated phenomenon.
The role of the TV: „Television is the principal means by
which most people learn about history today. Just as
television has profoundly affected and altered every
aspect of contemporary life – from family to education,
government, business and religion – the medium’s
nonfictional and fictional portrayals have similarly
transformed the way tens of millions of viewers think
about historical figures” /Gary Edgerton, 2000/.  we
have to treat the media seriously because of its impact
on people, their way of thinking, etc. Is this a convincing
argument? What do you think?
Five Characteristics of
Collective Memory
Collective memory is a socio-political construct: cannot be
considered as evidence of the authenticity of a shared past
The construction of collective memory is a continuous,
multidirectional process: current events and beliefs guide our
reading of the past, while frames of references learned from the
past shape our understanding of the present
Collective memory is functional: social groups may
commemorate their past in order to set a moral example or to
justify their failures
Collective memory must be concretized: must be
materialised through commemorative rituals, monuments,
historical museums, educational systems, the Internet, and
Collective memory is narrational: it must be structured within
a familiar cultural pattern
A. Media Memory and Agency:
the Question of Authority
Do you know what agency means? Object,
subject, agent.
The question of authority: who has the right to
narrate collective stories about the past? Not only
academic and political elites; films, TV, the press.
Standpoint of this book: the impact of the media is
not only negative: the media provide a public
arena for various agents (political activists,
academics, local communities, etc). However, they
also acknowledge that media professionals aspire
to provide their own readings of the collective past.
Constructing the Media Narrative:
Selection, Competition
The facts of the past have only limited significance in
the process of shaping collective memories so as to
suit current needs (Halbwachs)
The principle of selection is of primary importance:
social memories change mainly via the process by
which some events are emphasised and others are
Different interpreters compete over the place of their
reading in the public arena. How the media is seen in
this competition: 1. a platform for socio-cultural
struggles; 2. (present themselves as) authoritative
social storytellers of the past  what kind of view of
the media is this? Postitive/negative/nonjudgemental?
The Collective, the Cosmopolitan,
and the National
2. The question of defining the collective: to what
extent can we still think about the nation as an
„imagined community” in the media age?
„Cosmopolitanization means internal globalization,
globalization from within the national societies”
/Beck U., 2002/
Their thesis: although most of the research
devoted to collective memory centres on the
construction of national memories, in the era of
globalization collective memory that exist in a
cosmopolitan context do not necessarily promote
national values.
Individual Memory vs.
Collective Memory
3. Individual memory vs. collective memory: how
can we distinguish between individual and shared
Personal level: cognitive psychology
Media: a vessel for shared recollections
Pierre Nora: „secondary memory”: mass media
representations create shared social frameworks
for people who inhabit different social spaces,
practices and beliefs. E.g. Schindler’s List; The
Iron Lady, The House of Terror, The US Holocaust
Memorial Museum
B. Media Memory and
The construction of the past by the media is understudied; „the
ways in which the past and present are continuously
constructed via routine journalistic work are harder to track
down and conceptulize than the study of state-sponsored
rituals, commemorative museums, or lucrative popular culture
Question of selection: should we focus on popular or rather
elite venues? Deliberately fictional constructs or
Three traditional areas of interest:
Text: The analysis of media texts (characteristics of
storytelling patterns, morals, etc.)
Production:Studying the dynamics of mass media production
Reception: Focusing on the ways by which audiences
interpret media contents
Questions and problems in
media memory research
The research field of collective memory
suffers from the drunk-looking for-his-carkeys-under-the-lamp-post phenomenon
i.e., researchers look for the representations
of collective memory in the most usual
places and times
Collected memories: collected memories of
many individuals vs. Collective memories:
common public representations of the past