Thoughts on Collective Memory

14 Mar

by Diana Yost-

As a nation, America has a collective memory.  This memory is used to unite the people together and give us a sense of communal identity as Americans.  What and how we choose to remember says a lot about who we are and how we want to be represented. We preserve our American past through various forms of memory, such as national days of observation, memorials and monuments, museums and even festivals and holidays.

Take national days of observance for instance. There are days like Memorial Day where we all celebrate as a nation the same cause on the same day. We also have several national holidays. The 4th of July brings forth patriotic celebrations and festivities commemorating our independence as a nation. Then we have Thanksgiving, a day reserved for observation to commemorate a specific event in American colonial history. Americans choose to commemorate these occasions in a celebratory way. They represent the positive side of the past, where we remember the good.

National memorials and monuments are another form of remembrance. The city of Washington D.C. is decorated with a variety of statues and other forms of sculpture all representing important people and events from America’s past. We select these people and events to remember as a way to educate the public on things deemed significant to our past.

Museums are another form of public education, and many museums are focused on collecting items of “Americana,” things that are distinctly American. We do this in effort to preserve our past, as a reminder. Historic preservation also plays a role here, ensuring that certain artifacts and even buildings of our past are preserved for future use of remembering and learning.

All of these forms of memory, along with many others, are ways for Americans to feel connected to each other as a country. By observing national days of commemoration, celebrating our past through festivals, and creating objects of remembrance such as memorials and monuments, Americans are striving to not forget their past.  What we chose to remember shows what is important to our history.


One Response to “Thoughts on Collective Memory”

  1. Becky Johnston March 23, 2011 at 3:09 pm #

    How we choose to remember these past events also implies what is important to us. Events that are significant to our country’s history can, over time, be interpreted with a more nostalgic and patriotic flare than perhaps they had when these events were initiated. How they are remembered and interpreted can also reflect our country at that point in history, as well. Take for instance Columbus Day and, though not a holiday but is being commemorated, The Boston Tea Party. The interpretation of these events reflects the mindset of our country, or a segment of our country at a particular time -which can also change over time.

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