This course explores what and how societies collectively remember, and why. It also examines how the past matters in the contemporary world particularly in the construction of contemporary national identities. First we will build foundational knowledge about how anthropologists and other scholars theorize social memory. Then we will examine some of the practices, sites, artifacts, and media through which social memory is formed and represented. The link between history and memory will be studied, as well as the link between memory, ethics, and social justice. The nation’s capital, Washington, DC, offers many important sites that represent the history of the United States. For any nation, the past serves as an important resource for expressing shared identity and what it means to be a member of the nation. Social or collective memory, representing shared understandings about the nation’s past, is reinforced in part by museums, monuments and commemorative practices. As such, the work of memory is key to understanding the nation-state and our place in it. We will examine key works that theorize social memory and we will explore memory’s connection to nation-building and national belonging. Field experiences will connect us to local sites that include the National Museum of the American Indian, the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, to the Lincoln and Washington national monuments, and to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Taught by Professor Robin DeLugan