Next week I head down to Charleston, South Carolina for the Civil War Trust’s annual teachers institute. This is my third year working with CWT and it’s always a rewarding experience. My talk is on the history of Civil War monuments and how they can be integrated into the classroom. As a preface to my talk I need to introduce the concept of collective memory. Here are a few points from Michael Kammen’s seminal study, Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture, that I hope will help to get the ball rolling.
If collective memory (usually a code phrase for what is remembered by the dominant civic culture) and popular memory (usually referring to ordinary folks) are both abstractions that have to be handled with care, what (if anything) can we assert with assurance?
1. That public interest in the past pulses; it comes and goes.
2. That we have highly selective memories of what we have been taught about the past.
3. That the past may be mobilized to serve partisan purposes.
4. That the past is commercialized for the sake of tourism and related enterprises.
5. That invocations of the past (as tradition) may occur as a means of resisting change or of achieving innovations.
6. That history is an essential ingredient in defining national, group, and personal identity.
7. That the past and its sustaining evidence may give pleasure for purely aesthetic and non-utilitiarian reasons.
8. And finally, that individuals and small groups who are strongly tradition-oriented commonly seek to stimulate a shared sense of the past within their region.
From Charleston it’s back to Gettysburg for the Richard Bartol, Jr. Educator’s Conference, which is organized by the National Park Service and Gettysburg Foundation. I get to talk about digital media literacy, but the highlight for me will be my talk on teaching the movie Glory in the Majestic Theatre. It should be a lot of fun.