Course Description


“To map the geography of memory is to reimpose narrative on a sprawling democracy of versions.”                                                                                  –Stuart McConnell

Memory has long been studied in the academy as a psychological process of individual cognition. Over the past quarter century, however, notions of collective, public, and cultural memory have emerged as a useful means of understanding the complex ways that personal remembrances are enmeshed in larger patterns that inform our social belonging. This course examines the contested role of memory in constructing historical meaning and imagining the cultural boundaries of communities. We will examine a variety of symbolic and material expressions that Americans have developed over time to celebrate national, regional, and ethnic difference by exploring popular fictions, films, rituals, artifacts, holidays, monuments, landscapes, and performances. Problems we will examine include the invention of tradition; the politics of commemoration; emergent expression and counter-memory; and the cultural work and play performed by celebrity figures, sites of memory, national legends, and literary canons. We will approach these problems from a variety of disciplinary perspectives including those of literature, history, anthropology, folklore, cultural geography, and media studies. The readings for this class provide a variety of case studies that will provide you with models of scholarship and interpretation designed to stimulate the interdisciplinary creativity of your own academic pursuits. At the end of the semester you will better understand the manifold power and processes and through which the past is made to matter and how memory studies provides an enabling dimension of analysis for your continuing investigation of the complexity of culture.