History and Memory

History and Memory

What is the difference between history and memory?  

As the late great Bernard Bailyn said, through history, we work on the past, We reach back and put past events together. And in doing so we learn about ourselves precisely by observing those who came before us. 

Through memory, we allow the past to work on us. We receive our predecessors and renew our community with the dead, the living, and those yet to be born.  

History, we can say, is more objective and distant, the kind of cool distance required of study in any field. Memory is more emotional, visceral. History can cover any event that warrants observation; in memory we embrace some events, others are troubling. History is more time-bound: we to stick to the historical context of an event with great discipline. Memory is more timeless: a past event can move us, despite the great distance of time. 

For all their distinctives, history and memory are allies: together, they forge our understanding of the past, deepen the human bond, and inform our moral response for others, and for the world we inherit. 


Andrew J. Zwerneman is co-founder and president of Cana Academy. His latest book, History Forgotten and Remembered is available here. 

 

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