SoSe 19: The History of Memory in the United States after 1865
Information for students
Please note that there will be an excursion to the Allied Museum in Zehlendorf on Saturday, June 15, 2019 from 10 am - 12 pm (noon).
The past has always been important in U.S. history. Ever since the early days of the Republic, Americans have made use of history to strengthen national identity. There are, however, many other ... read more
The past has always been important in U.S. history. Ever since the early days of the Republic, Americans have made use of history to strengthen national identity. There are, however, many other reasons for why people have looked to the past. Memories of the Revolution have, for example, been used to instill a sense of patriotism, but they have also been made profitable in the tourism industry. Memories of European immigration to America have been used to promote international relations, but also to claim white supremacy. Memories of slavery have been taken as a cause for civil rights reforms, but also to argue for the status quo. In a seminal book from 1991, historian John Gillis observed that memories “are not things we think about, but things we think with.” The ways in which we remember the past are bound up in various interests—ideological, political, cultural, religious, or commercial—and they are, as a consequence, always contested. To study the history of memory in the United States is thus to explore the often conflicting ideas about how the nation’s origins, struggles, and triumphs ought to be understood.
This course examines the history of cultural memory in the United States since the 1860s. The course has both a thematic and a theoretical focus. First, it will introduce students to theories and methodologies drawn from the extensive research fields of memory studies, critical heritage studies, and public history. Second, we will make use of these theoretical tools in examining how a wide range of events in U.S. history have been remembered (for example colonial settlements, the Revolution, the westward expansion, slavery, the Civil War, immigration, the Vietnam War, and the 9/11 attacks), what meanings these histories have been charged with, and how and why the memory of these events have changed over time. Acknowledging that the meanings and functions of history are affected by the very ways in which they are remembered, we will also learn how to analyze different modes and practices of memory, including monuments, museums, popular culture, commemorations, and reenactments. Through this dual approach, the student will understand the great importance of memory in U.S. history, and learn basic methodologies of how to interpret representations of history in society.