What are the complexities of the interplay between history and memory?Quite unsure how to approach the question. I understand that it is asking about the relationship between history and memory but...

What are the complexities of the interplay between history and memory?

Quite unsure how to approach the question. I understand that it is asking about the relationship between history and memory but i don't know how to demonstrate that. Actually don't know what the interplay is, I just know that history and memory work together to create a more accurate depiction of the past...

Expert Answers
Jessica Gardner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The interplay between memory and history can be summarized by the extrapolation of their differences:

  • Memory is subjective and open to suggestion. It is our mental recall of past events.
  • History is the factual recording of events that actually happened.

Memory is a way by which we perceive history, much of the time in an entirely sentimental and tentative way. The cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has spent her career studying the ways in which memory works, and more importantly how it cannot be trusted as an objective log of history.

An expert in human memory, Loftus conducted experiments that led her to write about a phenomenon called the “misinformation effect.” This refers to the human memory’s susceptibility to incorporate false memories (events that never happened) via suggestion. Through her experiments, Loftus proved that the memory is no steel trap; our memories are for the most part corruptible by outward suggestion. 

Other psychologists have come to similar conclusions, some adding that memory is created and sustained by repetition; for instance, children who grow up with a sibling as opposed to growing up as a single child are more likely to retain early childhood memories. This is because siblings are likely to retell stories of past events together, strengthening these memories within each other’s mind.

And, as wordprof has already said, the human memory has a powerful ability to repress distressing memories as a means to cope with our lives. Often memories of childhood abuse are repressed and do not surface until triggered in later life.

You could argue, then, that much of our memories cannot be trusted as an unfiltered portrayal of our histories. For, as Elizabeth Lotus’ studies point out, memory can easily be corrupted to either obliterate entire events or add in occurrences that never actually took place.

wordprof eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It seems to me that “history” here means actual events in an individual’s life. (“History” as a discipline to record, assess, and evaluate “public events”—wars, reigns, social events, politics, etc., etc.—is another subject, connected to personal memory only in the truism that “all history is revisionist history”).

 Toward that end, psychologists suggest that events with “memorable” impact are those that have a visual or other sensory component (“I remember Grandpa’s habit of laughing at everything”; “The smell of freshly baked bread brings me back to our house on Brown Street”; “Whenever I see a rainbow, I remember the storm at the cabin”, etc.).  Unhappy events and painful events tend to lose their details and leave only vague feelings of distress in our memories.  The mind in fact protects us from truly devastating events in our history—you know that your “history” includes falling off your bike and breaking your arm, but all you can remember is your friends signing your cast.  If you keep your “history” in a diary, the “memories” are altered each time you read your entry.  Certain national events bring back personal memories and thereby refresh your private memory:  “I remember where I was when Kennedy was shot”; “I know I was twelve because my party was canceled because of the big snowstorm of 1948.”  These are the ways that your history interacts with your memories.  The interplay is complex and fragile.  One last point:  psychologists say that we don’t actually remember past events—we just remember the last time we remembered the event. (Our memory is a device for re-energizing our history.)