Selected Fields

Past - History & Memory

Past14The relationship between history and memory has emerged in the second half of the 20th century as one of most enduring questions within historical study.    The question of how the past shapes and is shaped by the present is ever-present in the way historians today undertake their work.  

History and memory are far from coterminous:  Memory is distinguished as being paired with forgetting, and as such is a mechanism which selectively deploys the past to bear on the present.  It is also critical to the present in its malleability:  Memory of a supposed past is strongly shaped by present perceptions.   The work of the historian today is as much that of teasing apart the threads of memory, history, and present perception as it is the excavating and recording of historical fact.   Moreover, historical narratives must themselves be understood as products of, and in dialogue with, the multiple ways in which the past has been “remembered,” re-remembered, and deployed by various individuals, groups, and national collectivities alike. 

Attention to the role of memory in history is now a central preoccupation of the discipline, and one of the most important tasks of the historian today is teasing out this complicated relationship and exploring the ways in which history, memory, and historical memory inform and shape one another.  Revisionist histories; the unearthing of new archival materials to reassess past events, narratives, and debates; works of historiography; new periodizations of history and new framings of geography; memoirs – in the discipline of history the past decades have seen an efflorescence of such approaches, and all are ultimately engaged in the question of history and memory. 

The 2014 Dan David Prize in the field of History will be awarded to an outstanding individual who has made a significant contribution to the understanding of the interplay between history and memory, and between contemporary perceptions and narratives of the past.