Cultural memory and research paradigms in studying the past

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №10 - 2018

Author: Mareeva Elena, Doctor of Philosophy, Professor, Department of Social and Philosophical Sciences, Moscow State Institute of Culture, Russia

Historical knowledge in fact begins with historiography, where a typical example is a description of events, facts and artifacts of the past with elements of geography and ethnography of the Roman historians - Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Polybius, Livy, Tacitus. But even interest in chronology in historical research arises much later. As for history as a science, like sociology, it treats facts as a prerequisite for determining the internal connection of facts, which is otherwise called objective regularity. In this sense, historical science, like all classical science, is focused on objectivity and reliability of knowledge. And the situation does not change because psychological science tends to objective knowledge about subjective processes.

Historical science, in contrast to common ideas of individuals or collectives about the past, does not just recreate, but also understands the logic of what is happening. As for memoirs or journalism, an attempt to understand the objective logic of past events connects the ordinary consciousness or art in the person writing about history to science. Although art involves personal experience of the past, critical realism for many historians was a means of reconstructing the logic of history, which the science was to clarify, but not impute to factual circumstances.

Here we can see the fundamental difference between history as a science and philosophy of history, which, as is commonly believed, is most clearly described by G.V.F. Hegel. But later we can read in I.- G. Fichte “The philosopher who deals with history as a philosopher is guided by the a priori thread of the world plan, which is clear to him without any history; and he does not use history to prove anything by means of the latter (for his position has already been proved before and without any history), but only to clarify and show in living life things which are clear and without history” [1]. Thus, the historiography and philosophy of history appear in the form of extremes - empiricism and metaphysics, into which historical research is divided, when empirics in it opposes theory.

Ideas about social progress in the culture of the Enlightenment, which today is associated with the so-called “modernism”, were imbued with a universal moral principle, which is challenged by postmodernism. In the wake of this protest, a “memorial boom” of the 20th century arose, when historical science was confronted with a field of knowledge with a vague name of “memory research” or “memory studies”. Moreover, these studies gained popularity in the 80s-90s of the last century, in parallel with the post-modern themes in art and philosophy.

To define this kind of research, various terms were proposed - “collective memory”, “social memory”, “cultural memory”, “popular memory”, “public memory”. Terminological diversity in this case indicates uncertainty as a feature of this phenomenon. And, nevertheless, here we are faced with a paradigm shift in studying the past.

Historical science had its own history and methodology. Reflection of the logic of development and methods of historical knowledge was a separate topic and the problem of social sciences. What concerns research on cultural memory, here too, everything did not appear overnight. The problem of cultural and social memory emerged in the field of historical knowledge gradually, introducing new approaches and methodology into the analysis of the past.

Some of the researchers who write on the topics of cultural and social memory see here only an extension of the problematic through the images of the past in the collective consciousness, which implies more attention to art and myth-consciousness in the context of the epoch.

But, turning to the history of the issue, we see how ideas about cultural memory grew out of the attempt to keep a distance from objective scientific knowledge about history. The situation is complicated by the fact that this was largely determined by the desire to dissociate from the positivist projection on the history of natural science methodology, which was clearly opposed in the neo-Kantianism of the Baden school, where G. Rickert asserted that history “does not want to generalize as people in natural science do” [2].

As a trend, it can be observed as early as in the German “historical school”, which is represented, first of all, by L. von Ranke, A. Muller, V. von Humboldt, J. Grimm, I.G. Droysen. V.F.Y Schelling with his intuitive perception of the genius in the life of the spirit and historical education is sometimes referred to as the representative of the German “historical school”.

However, at this stage in the study of history, the irrational “implantation” and direct understanding are not yet opposed to its rational knowledge, and the particular has not become the antithesis of the universal. Using the example of the neo-Kantians of the Baden school, where Kantianism turned into a “philosophy of culture”, we see that the universal still continues to balance the unique, since unique cultural artifacts mean something only in the light of the transcendental “kingdom of universal significance,” or “reasonable values” in terminology of V. Windelband. The ego of the epoch also matters only against the background of Divine truth. However, by the end of the 19th century, in the historical methodology, the individual prevails over the general and the subjective - over the objective.

The theme of consolidation and enthusiasm of the people while relying on the rallying power of the epos, as is known, was raised in the nineteenth century by German romantics. Representatives of the “historical school”, inspired by Schelling and romantics, were primarily concerned with the history of spiritual culture, rather than political history. It is in this context that one should consider the focus of V. von Humboldt on the history of the language and the activities of the Grimm brothers in the field of studying German language and folklore.

But the above-mentioned “renaissance” of mythological consciousness is only one of the directions in the wide stream of transformation of European culture from the classical to the non-classical form. The collective knowledge of the past is not only mythology, and human communities are not only united by the memory of people. Therefore, at the end of the 20th century, memory studies become multidisciplinary knowledge, uniting the efforts of not only historians and social (cultural) anthropologists, but sociologists, psychologists, art historians, religious scholars and even specialists in the field of mass communication theory. And in the most general form, the “science of culture”, or rather, the “culturology” formed in the twentieth century can be considered the formal framework of all this diversity.

Where we are talking about the prerequisites for the emergence of memory studies in F. Nietzsche, E. Durkheim, A. Warburg, and others, the shift from the objective processes to the study of collective forms of consciousness, among which the choice is not in favor of a rational picture of the world, but in favor of irrational-symbolic forms from the areas adjacent to art, as is the case with Warburg is considered to be especially valuable. In this case, German art historian Abi Warburg at the turn of the XIX-XX centuries interprets art precisely as “pictorial symbols” of culture. Like in his younger contemporary O. Spengler, the content of symbols in Warburg is something similar to the collective soul of culture, which is able to manifest itself through them as the past presented today. Abi Warburg presented a collection of such cross-cutting images of cultural memory in his atlas “Mnemosyne”. The basis of his concept, as the researchers note, was the concepts of “culture”, “memory” and “symbolic form”, and therefore, Warburg himself proposed to expand the scope of art studies to Kulturwissenschaft - the science of culture [3].

In the light of the iconography of Warburg, it is already clear that the attitude to the past in this field of knowledge is presented not as its study, but as its interpretation. But the peculiarities of what is called the “epistemological turn” of the twentieth century in historical science cannot be understood without the Annals School. And here we approach the issue of mentality, but not in the modern common sense of the word, but precisely in the sense Mark Bloc and Lucien Fevre had in mind as the creators of the French historical magazine Annals, which exists since 1929.

In the school of Annals, the historian no longer explores the society in its social and economic development, as Marxist historical science did, from which representatives of the Annals School consciously distanced themselves. History, as M. Block writes about it in his work “Man in Time”, is not a series of objective processes, but a man himself, and therefore a historical event is viewed not “from the outside”, but “from the inside”. For Block, the moment of difference in the flow of historical time is more significant than the general logic of events. But L. Fevre gave a more specific definition, according to which “our history is idealistic ... for economic facts, like all other social phenomena, arise from faith and beliefs” [4].

In the context of the well-understood “total” history, the idea of the historical source itself is changing, adding the facts from adjacent areas. The French word “mentalitě” means something like “thinking patterns”, “collective representations”. At the same time, J. Le Goff believed that “mentality” refers to the sphere of “non-evident, implicit” and “unclear, diffuse” [5]. And in this situation of uncertainty, historical science in the paradigm of the school of “Annals” discusses the issue of the motives of participants of the past events to clarify their psychological portrait.

Subsequently, the problem of mentality within the framework of historical science gained independence, which did not change its essence. Let us quote the words of a specialist in the theory of mentalities J. Duby, who writes: “What I write is my history ... indeed, I am convinced of the unconditional subjectivity of historical research, at least of my historical research ... I do not invent anything ... or, I do invent, but I try to substantiate my inventions with the strongest possible supports and build on the basis of strictly critically verified testimony, perhaps more accurate evidence [6]”. This is the way to blur the boundaries between scientific and unscientific knowledge, when every historian has his own image of the past.

The concepts of “mentality and identity”, in our opinion, express the specificity of memory studies and the paradigmatic shift that occurred in the twentieth century in knowledge of the past. But here, however, it is necessary to make a terminological clarification, since in the domestic literature, following the English literature, “social memory” and “cultural memory” appear as synonyms.

Without going into a detailed comparison of the concepts of "collective", "society" and "culture", we will follow the tradition of identifying these notions. This cannot be said about identity, since identity in memory studies should be distinguished from the philosophical category of self-consciousness. And the roots of this difference go back to the difference between myth and logos, reason and prejudice.

Understanding of identity in modern science not without reason grows out of the study of the consciousness of the patriarchal collective. Identification in this case is the identification of oneself with the team in a spontaneously direct form. Compared to Fichte and Hegel, according to whom the act of rational self-consciousness is the foundation of the entire universe, modern ideas about identity are a return to what seemed to be in the distant past. From conscious personal choice, we return to the mechanisms of unconscious rallying through a sense of collective involvement. Developments in the field of memory studies show that rational thinking does not eliminate them. At the level of religious consciousness, as shown by Halbwax and Assman, they are modified. And in the modern society an irrationally organized cultural memory takes revenge. And above all, it happens because an irrational collective identity, in contrast to individual self-consciousness, is a successful form of manipulation. The mechanisms of the formation of the “mythology from above” are an innovation of the era of controlled democracy. And the attractiveness of such images of the past is in the moving border between fantasy and fact.

The past, as shown by memory studies, has once again become a myth with which successfully work the media. It is media that, in the light of political conjuncture, seek to interpret and “reinterpret” images of the past, not to clarify the truth, but to consolidate and manage groups of people. The images of cultural memory in this context are the core of collective identity at the level of feelings, moods, experiences and other manifestations of mentality. And with such an understanding of cultural memory, identity and mentality, history can only be a pseudo-science.

We live in a new reality of political technologies and social design, including images of the past in scientific knowledge and public consciousness. If the Young Hegelians in the XIX century believed that the revolution are born in the brain of the philosopher, they were sincere romantics, which is not true of modern political technologists who consciously construct a profitable image of the past. L.P. Repina writes that socially constructed historical myths are perceived today as reliable “memories” (as “history”) and therefore play an important role “in the orientation, self-identification and behavior of an individual, in the formation and maintenance of collective identity and even the translation of ethical values [7]. At the same time, claims of a community for a high status, material, territorial, political, and other advantages in the present are based on stereotyping and are not tolerant of any alternatives and, even more so, of pluralism of opinions [8].

We can add that in the post-Soviet space the need for “appropriating the past” is as high as ever, which is demonstrated by various theories about “ancient Ukra-inians”, “ancient Russians” and so on. And as we know, claims for pluralism and democracy are quite compatible with authoritarianism of one’s own model of history.

As we can see, the “memorial nature” that embraced the scientific community at the turn of the millennium is based on significant methodological shifts in science and culture on the way from the classical to the non-classical paradigm. At the same time, modern mechanisms of forming “images of the past” are embedded into the practice of “managed democracy”, where the irrational forms of collective consciousness are the flip side of new forms of authoritarianism.


1. Fichte, I-G. Several Lectures about a Designation of a Scientist; Designation of a Man: Main Fatures of the Modern Time: Collectin of Works / Fichte, I-G. Minsk: Popurri, 1998. P. 356.

2. Rikkert, G. Sciences about Nature and Art / Rikkert, G.. Ì.: Respublika 1998. p. 74.

3. Toropynina, Ì. Iconology. The Beginning. The Problem of a Symbol of AbiVarburg and Iconology of his Circles. Ì.: Progress-Traditsiya, 2015. Retrieved from https:// mybook. ru/ author/ marina-toropygina/ikonologiya-nachalo-problema-simvola-u-abi-varburg/read/ on 20. 10. 2018.

4. Revel, J. The History of Mentalities: An Experience of Review // Debates over the Most Important. Ì. 1993. P. 52.

5. Le Goff, J. From the Heaven to the Earth // Odysseus, A Man in History. Ì. 1991, P. 30.

6. Gurevich, A.Ya. Historical Synthesis and the School of Annals. Ì.: Indrik, 1993. P. 152.

7. Ibid. p. 9.

8. Ibid. p. 9.

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №10 - 2018

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