Symposium 2005

Symposium 2005:

History and Memory: Present Reflections on the Past to Build Our Future


Main Themes

  • The liaisons between History and Memory: Epistemological issues
  • Questions of method: On the sources of History and towards an interdisciplinary approach
  • Selecting and constructing memories
  • Teaching history and preserving memory
  • The “duty of Memory”: For whom and to what end?


  • 1-3 December, 2005


  • Inspiration Building, Institute For Tourism Studies


  • English and Mandarin


History and memory are tightly connected: both deal with the past, and one cannot exist without the other. Without the lineaments of memory—whether writings, works of art, oral accounts or physical sites—history would have nothing to relate. Without the narrative of history, memory would be utterly fragmented and liable to vanish with the passing of its initial and unique bearer. Memories are constitutive of being, human and social, and history allows memory to nurture the present and build the future.

The connection between history and memory is, of course, open to debate. Some argue that these two ideas are made of a very different fabric, memory being borne by living societies founded in its name, whereas history is always reconstructed, and so problematic and incomplete, of what is no longer. Others see history as a special case of social and cultural memory.

Our contemporary era has again been full of “sound and fury”. Empires have been replaced by nation-states, all places on the earth have been discovered, all cultures and civilisations have been put in contact, and yet we have witnessed in the twentieth century some of the greatest tragedies in the history of mankind. Living in a modern world scarred by these terrible man-made disasters, and on a planet where the escape routes have almost all disappeared, suggests that global communication has yet to translate into global understanding. It is our belief that the manufacturing of historical consciousness , what “history and memory” is all about, has thus become a need—witness the trend for commemoration and celebration of all sorts and in all guises—and an imperative.

Macau has been a place for true and uninterrupted encounter between the West and China for the past 450 years, and, as such, is a “place of memory” where remnants of history can still be found everywhere. We are therefore confident that this symposium will serve as a bridge between cultures, historical paths and schools of thought, bringing in elements of comparison between China and the rest of the world not only to illustrate differences but also to uncover elements of commonality and narrative of shared experiences.

Organising Institutions


Consuelo Varela

Memory and the Writing of History

The emergence of this new History subject invites us, the historians, to try new analysis and to investigate the relations between Memory and historical Knowledge. I shall divide my lecture in three parts: The memory as a subject to study; the institutionalized memory, plurality of memories and "les lieux de mèmoires", places of memory. I will end by exposing a personal criticism. Memory, silence and oblivion, nostalgia and change, oral sources on a golden epoch and the commemorations and the setting of museums are diverse ways to relate Memory and History. The governments and the public powers are imposing machines of memory or institutionalized forgetfulness, decreeing the memory, the forgetfulness, the amnesty, the amnesia, the sentence or the pardon. Against the action of the forgetfulness raises the non-governmental organizations. I will end by posing three remarks: there is only one history, but there are as many collective memories as there are human communities; the risks of trivialisation and the invented tradition.

赵世瑜 Zhao Shiyu

Ancestors, Symbols for Homeland and History of Ethnic Groups - An Analysis of the Legends of Immigrants from Big Pagoda Tree of Hongtong, Shanxi

On the immigrants from Hongtong, Shanxi in early Ming, there are many widely spreading legends in Beijing, Hebei, Shandong, Jiangsu, Shenxi, Henan, Anhui, Northeast provinces and Shanxi itself. They were recorded in a great deal in the genealogies, gravestones, and local annals. According to present materials, it is no doubt for the immigration movement in Shanxi in a long-term period. The scholars suspected the statistics, by the genealogies, that the immigrants who said they came from Hongtong distributed in 227 counties in 11 provinces with the total population over one million. However, there is still no reasonable interpretation. If we pursue the legends and history about the said issue, particularly taking the common mentality reflected in the immigration process, immigrant's collective memory about their ancestors and homeland as the object of study, discussing the process in which the big pagoda tree and the roost were shaped into a sacred symbol, inquiring the meanings behind these discourses in the manner of “Archaeology of Knowledge” (l'archéologie du savoir) formulated by M. Foucault, we may find how these discourses and symbols were created, or find the socio-cultural context behind these legends through the studies on their varied types and their diffusing characteristics.

These legends include the ones on the origin of immigration, the sites of big pagoda tree, the immigration forced and deceived by the governments, the strange shape of pettitoes, hands clasp behind backs, hands unbonding (to go to toilet), the family break-up, the settlement of the immigrants, and other types. There are still varied texts under these types. Although it is hard to set the timing for the beginning of these legends, the basic motif and scenarios were created in two periods, that is, the period of Han ethnic group consciousness reconstructing after the Northern ethnic groups' mixing under Nuchen and Mongol rules, and the period of the nationalist consciousness building during late Qing and early Republic period. The discussion on the historical process such as these could perhaps be regarded as a history of ideas with the perspectives of historical anthropology.

Nyitray Vivian-Lee

Lord Xinling, Lei Feng, and Ven. Zheng Yen: History, Memory, and Narrative Ethics

Much of my research has focused on the construction of biographical narratives as a means of transforming histories both real and imagined into memories that bind individuals into communities of meaning. I have sought to explore the ways in which the reading of history draws later, unintended audiences into the process of self-examination and into participation in groups that are either overtly religious or are seemingly secular but actually form a civil religious group.

The three subjects of the paper span the period from the Warring States era in China through the building of the People's Republic down to contemporary Taiwan . Lord Xinling of Wei was extolled in Sima Qian's Shiji as the most virtuous of the feudal lords; Lei Feng was the widely promoted PLA model soldier; and Ven. Zheng Yen founded the Buddhist Tzu Chi Compassion Foundation in Taiwan nearly forty years ago to promote medical mission work. A disparate group, but one that well illustrates the linkages of history, memory, and the ethical call to duty, responsibility, and civic virtue.

Examining aspects of what Frank Reynolds and Donald Capps have called the biographical process, the paper first will highlight the aspects of each life that were/are ideally suited to simultaneously reinforcing and subverting the dominant images of virtuous conduct and citizenry in the subject's time and place. Then, drawing on recent narratological theory and current discussions of narrative ethics, this paper will suggest that the particular contours of these constructed lives influence contemporary audiences in strong and specific ways, i.e., to reach across the boundaries of history to create in the reader the sense of shared memory and thus the impetus to engage with the subject's life in personal and active ways.

Juan Gil

Global Inquisition and the Aborigines

The Iberian Inquisition, brought as it was by the Spaniards and the Portuguese to the last corners of their colonies (México, Lima , Manila; Brasil , India ), produced an immense amount of documents. It is imposible to read and even to consult all the sources, now spread around the world: vz. direct documentation emanated from the Inquisition itself (law-suits, whose liability has been denied—wrongly—by B. Netanyahu; letters, consults, account-rolls, etc.), indirect documentation, books written in favour (Páramo) or against the Inquisition (Reginaldus Montanus) from the XVI th century on, etc. The Inquisition lives still in the collective memory (it is quoted, for instance, as a self-evident allusion in a popular musical as My fair lady ).

The victims, condemned to death or not, were numerous and belonged to groups or nations that professed other religions than Catholicism: Lutherans, Jews, etc. Each group or nation tried to revive the memory of its victims from the very moment of their death: for instance, Montanus that from the Spanish Lutherans, Hakluyt that of the English ones. But they all were Europeans. However, when the Iberian conquerors implanted the Inquisition outside Europe, the jurisdiction of the Holy Tribunal begun to rule over other people: mainly over the aborigins of the conquered land. Though the sources are extremely rare and scarce, this paper made an effort to reassemble, check and explain the scattered evidence on this subject: the globalization of the Inquisition. It is the only way of rescuing now the memory of the silent dead.

陳方中 Chen Fang-Chung

Documents, Interviews and Facts–The Case Study of the Boxer Rebellion in the Connection Between History and Memory

The Boxer Rebellion is a hot topic in the study of modern China . With official backing from the government, a huge amount of documents are now available. Moreover, interviews, on a large scale, have been conducted since the 60's, which give us vast resources of the “oral history” genre. Again in the 80's, new interviews complemented the existing documentation. Present researches on the Boxer Rebellion are based on these two sources.

However, historians, looking for facts, cannot but admit the limitations of such resources considering the conclusion of the historians. We discover many discrepancies among the written documents, and many factual errors appear in the interviews. Because of such limitations, historians have to choose among all the data available before writing their own interpretation. We shall illustrate such a process with the case of the Boxer Rebellion in PingYuan: selection among written and oral documentation, then, the construction of a “historical discourse”. The study will underline the role of memory in historical step toward more objectivity.

Shana Brown

Qing Intellectual History in Republican China (Liang Qichao, Qian Mu, Luo Zhenyu)

As we approach the centennial of the 1911 Chinese Revolution, the Qing Dynasty is with us more than ever—in television dramas, in clothing and decorative fashions—and in the academic realm, in continuing interest in the dynasty's intellectual culture. Indeed, “Qing intellectual history” itself has a history, created during the first decades of the twentieth century. This essay explores early representations of Qing intellectual culture by Liang Qichao, Qian Mu, and Luo Zhenyu. These conservative writers, partly in response to critiques by the May Fourth generation, each defended the accomplishments of Qing Dynasty learning—the origins of their own intellectual training and by implication, the roots of some of their choices in the post-Qing era. In doing so, they illuminated issues of social and cultural conservatism in the Republican period and the contentious legacy of the only recently-destroyed Qing Dynasty, in ways that offer relevance for our own understanding of how politics and scholarship intermingle in the practice of history.

Stephan Feuchtwang

History and the Transmission of Shared Loss: The Famine that was Part of the Great Leap Forward in China and an Incident Included with the White Terror in the History of Taiwan

I shall be presenting the results of interviews about the Great Leap famine. But my more general topic is the anthropology of history, how people do or do not contribute to its being made, which is to say how people contribute to the politics of its narration, to the creation of its resources, and to media publication of historical narrative and fact. I shall begin by presenting interview materials to see how accounts of the famine differ according to differences in political status, and according to generation. At the same time I will explore the feelings surrounding disclosure of what happened and of personal experiences of the famine. In discussing how they vary and how all these personal accounts differ, if at all, from official and school accounts, my argument will be that although there are significant differences between the ways people talk about the famine and the way it is mentioned in official histories, Party publications and school textbooks, an alternative history is available so far only in foreign publications. An alternative or many alternative histories of the famine are there potentially, in unpublished and 'internal' documents for restricted circulation and in publications of articles such as this one. But in China , other ways of transmitting the experience of the famine prevail, in more embodied and unverbalised memories and habits of over-consumption and in ritual.

丁东 Ding Dong

Old Photos and Historical Memory

Chinese officials always intend to hide the scars of Chinese people in history. From publications to artistic productions of news, events related to oppositions of the Rightist, the Great Leap famine and the Cultural Revolution are banned without exception. The phenomenon, which has persisted for some ten years, creates a sense of historical unawareness for the new generation. Under this type of cultural atmosphere, “Old Photos” (the journal) hopes to go through the hidden corners of history; yet in a pragmatic way, it can only do so in a careful manner, in order to follow usual editorial behaviour in China. Since discussion of the panorama of history is forbidden, we use narratives of individual cases, and since the exposure of inside stories is prohibited, we try to reveal the experience of mankind. Due to the fact that personal cases from a civilian angle were adopted since the beginning, “Old Photos” becomes a tool for preserving memory at a certain point. The selection of topics in “Old Photos” comprises the perspectives from grass-root to middle class citizens on big historical events. In this fanatical era, there are people who still maintain a clear mind with independent personalities. Discovering the stories of these people becomes the focus of “Old Photos”. We pay special attention to the lives of those which best condense the essence of history and provide an account of stories of politicians and important figures. In order to select a distinctive angle as a clear contrast from the common historical narratives of people on a macro point of view in the second half of the 20 th century, “Old Photos” puts the emphasis on the revelation of the ignored public voice, considered as a blind spot in history, in striving for new discoveries within the realm of history familiar to mankind.

Jean-Philippe Béja

Forbidden Memory, Unwritten History: The Difficulty to Structure an Opposition Movement in the PRC

We shall try to show how the monopoly exercised by the Party on the writing of political history has made it difficult for an alternative memory to emerge. Through the study of the difficulty to transmit the memory of the "Hundred Flowers Movement" to the following generations, we shall try to analyse the weaknesses of the subsequent instances of opposition. In the last part, we shall try to present the attempts at writing an alternative history in the People's Republic of China.

John M. Carroll

Commemorating History in Colonial and Post-Colonial Hong Kong

This paper looks at two different attempts to create collective memories in Hong Kong: the commemoration in 1941 of Hong Kong's centenary as a British colony and the recent efforts in post-colonial Hong Kong to use history museums and heritage preservation to create a local identity grounded in a larger sense of Chinese nationalism. Examining a range of official and unofficial materials, the paper considers that the colonial and post-colonial governments have used Hong Kong's history to emphasize its historical distinctiveness, and how these efforts reveal some of the problems inherent in creating collective memories. As war with Japan loomed on the horizon during the 1941 centenary, for example, the colonial government's efforts to create a collective memory were hindered by its failure to prepare the colony adequately against the Japanese invasion. Since 1997, the efforts by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) government to forge a sense of localness and belonging through museums and heritage preservation have been undermined by the PRC government's frequent interference in the SAR's affairs.

刘青峰 Liu Qingfeng & 金观涛 Jin Guantao

The Objectivity of Historical Memory: Analyse the Reality of History of Ideas

A kind of revolution is affecting history since the 90's, when computer technology makes possible the storage and process of huge quantities of archives and other historical documents. Historical researches are going through a revolutionary period, with the creation of huge databases, facilitating statistical and quantitative methods; new concepts emerge and are quickly communicated; these new trends are in reciprocal influence with social, political and economic surroundings.

In 1997, we have launched various research projects, with the aim of building a “Professional Database for the study of contemporary Chinese ideas (1830 – 1930)”.

Today, the database has already reached some dimensions. It is constantly expanded and perfected. Important keywords can already be found in documents totaling 60,000,000 characters, facilitating the study of their meaning and the analysis of their usage with variation along the period.

The article provides a comprehensive presentation of the present state of our research with its implication for the understanding of new concepts in modern China. We shall also explain how this new quantitative method helps to revisit the connection between history and memory.

邢建榕 Xing Jianrong

Interaction Between Historical Archives and the TV Media: The Case of “Remembering Stories From the Archives”

Shanghai is undoubtedly a place for recollection. However, are our ways of “recollection” the right approach? Are the present restorations loyal to Shanghai's original appearance? The splendors and luxuries of modern Shanghai are perhaps too far from what it was in fact. In historical data and historiographies, Shanghai is always illustrated as an exhaustive spring of cultural sources: the deeper you dig, the more you find. However, it is always useless to disseminate historical sources to the public in an abstruse and uninteresting manner. After all, dramatic narratives are more popular than detailed descriptions. It is a waste of time if we lack effective means to promote the authenticity, authoritativeness and insights of historical data.

To experience the steps of our ancestors and ourselves in Shanghai history, historical data are the most credible sources. The best way to offer to the public these historical documents is to integrate them into the media, especially with the TV media. The harmonious interaction of historical data with the TV media will foster a healthy exploitation of historical sources. To offer to the public historical material with some interpretation is undoubtedly a new endeavor which has proved successful so far.

João de Pina-Cabral

Interpreting Memory as Acting on Memory: Ethnic Identity in Macao During the Transition Period (1987-1999)

In the course of social life we engage in a series of identifications and differentiations that, as they are shared with others and invested in our common world, become recognizable to others: they become consolidated, objectified. Identities, however, are fleeting things in constant change – they are eminently historical objects. To interpret someone is to engage with that person's memory as well as with the traces of sociality that surround him or her. To research on identity is to gather these traces of people's social relations and to portray them. But selecting is inevitably constructing. The moment the ethnographer presents the data, he or she becomes part of the thing researched.

Researching ethnic identity in Macao during the Transition Period (1987-1999), I tried to interpret people's memories in terms of the objectified traces of their sociality so as to create a picture of their ethnic identity. Nevertheless, as I did so, I was also keenly aware of how my own research was itself an instrument of memory.

章開沅 Zhang Kaiyuan & 田彤 Tian Tong

In Search for Traces of Chinese Workers: Cases from Alfreda Elsensohn’s Book Idaho Chinese Lore

Chinese workers largely contributed to the exploitation of Western America , but few studies focus on these Chinese groups so significant some hundred years ago. Sources on Chinese workers available to Chinese historians were limited to official documents, some newspapers and very few private narratives. Therefore, it was hard to unveil the real life and working conditions of Chinese workers in those days.

Sr Alfreda Elsensohn from the US, focused with perseverance her attention and research on the history of Chinese workers. After years of efforts, she managed to gather a great deal of information from newspapers, private and public documents, diaries and oral narratives, which she presented in a series of books Idaho Chinese Lore, Pioneer Days In Idaho County and Polly Bemis, etc. Vague and scattered memories, which have led to conflicting interpretations, had been interconnected to provide a clearer image of this historical scroll.

This paper aims to discuss the diversity and conflicting interpretations of history and memory and the views and techniques of data organization through this book.

Peter Zarrow

Teaching National Memory in Late Qing China: Failures and Results

Textbooks are designed both to impart knowledge and to socialize the younger generation. They are approved by political or social elites, and they represent a particular kind of collective memory, a memory or memories to be imposed “artificially” or at least deliberately. In modern society, educational institutions disseminating new knowledge often challenge existing views. One of the greatest challenges of new knowledge is to traditional “moral knowledge” that, among its other effects, binds communities of memory. together. Although officials in the late Qing did not wish to challenge Confucian moral views in any way, they also wished to integrate the new knowledge with traditional moral knowledge. And politically, they sought to shore up the monarchy.

A national educational system in China began in the early twentieth century, and it needed textbooks. The Qing government did not prescribe textbooks but allowed individuals to author them, subject to official approval. Officials expected schools to support the ideological claims of “loyalty to the monarch” ( 忠君 ). Yet by the late Qing, moral knowledge such as “loyalty” was deeply contested.

The author of a history textbook examined in this paper stated that he wished to instill students with a sense of national humiliation ( 國恥 ) as well as the importance of patriotism and the historical theme of the unity of the empire ( 一統天下 ). Yet the textbook itself offered relatively little sense of political or social progress. Its political narrative highlighted the actions of great men, but these actions often had tragic consequences. China's various historical emperors were military conquerors, not exemplars of virtue. As disseminated in this textbook, historical knowledge lost most of its moral significance and, in effect, collective memory was simultaneously challenged and put on a new footing.

Frédéric Rossif and Philippe Meyer (1988)

From Nuremberg to Nuremberg

Length of the film: 180 or 239 mn for a new “integral version”.

Summary: Delving into the heavy subject matter of the 2nd World War and Nazi Germany. Although the series starts cold and politically, it builds up to boldly display the terrible and unrelenting truth of the Nazis' worst actions. One of the key reference on the period, considered as the best attempt at having “neutral images” that speak for themselves.

Carma Hinton, Geremie Barmé and R. Gordon (2003)

Morning Sun

Length of the film: 120 mn.

Summary: The film Morning Sun attempts in the space of a two-hour documentary film to create an inner history of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (c.1964-1976). It provides a multi-perspective view of a tumultuous period as seen through the eyes—and reflected in the hearts and minds—of members of the high-school generation that was born around the time of the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, and that came of age in the 1960s. Others join them in creating in the film's conversation about the period and the psycho-emotional topography of high-Maoist China , as well as the enduring legacy of that period.

Rithy Panh (2002), and with Sylvie Rollet


Length of the film: 105mn.

Summary: In 1975-79, the Khmer Rouge waged a campaign of genocide on Cambodia's population. 1.7 million Cambodians lost their lives to famine and murder as the urban population was forced into the countryside to fulfill the Khmers Rouges' dream of an agrarian utopia. In S21, Panh brings two survivors back to the notorious Tuol Sleng prison (code-named "S21"), now a genocide museum where former Khmers Rouges are employed as guides. Painter Vann Nath confronts his former captors in the converted schoolhouse where he was tortured, though by chance he did not suffer the fate of most of the other 17,000 men, women and children who were taken there, their "crimes" meticulously documented to justify their execution. The ex-Khmers Rouges guards respond to Nath's provocations with excuses, chilling stoicism or apparent remorse as they recount the atrocities they committed at ages as young as 12 years old. To escape torture, the prisoners would confess to anything, and often denounce everyone they knew—though their final sentence was never in doubt.

Haviva Peled-Carmeli

Remembering the Past, Shaping the Future: Stories Focused on Personal Objects

The central aim of the Museum at Yad Vashem is to perpetuate the memory of the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust by the Nazis and those who collaborated with them during World War II. It fulfils the command of preserving the memory that has universal meaning for the generations to come – both as a warning and as a sign of hope. Using an inductive method unique to Yad Vashem's Holocaust History Museum , the Holocaust is presented from the point of view of the victim.

The event – the murder of six million persons – and the method, is almost impossible to grasp, but through one story, and another and another, the viewer can try to comprehend what happened. The use of a personal story with a tangible, authentic artefact as its focus, with the addition of documents, photographs and testimonies, enables the visitors to identify with the fragments of the survivors' experiences.

In the Museum we present more than 100 stories such as a recipe book from a camp where starvation was the norm, a doll that accompanied a little girl throughout the hardships of the Holocaust, an improvised comb made of wire and the eyeglasses that a mother passed on to her daughter moments before her death. The survivors have deposited with us what is dearest to them. Only the perception that the object can transfer the memories to future generations enables them to part with items so precious. We hope that the visitor to the museum who absorbs a significant number of these stories will take them to heart: questions will be raised in his mind and he will make conclusions regarding the future. That is in effect what we are dealing with: an attempt to learn from the past for the present and the future.

Cathryn Clayton

Valuing the Past in the Museum of Macau

Contemporary China has witnessed an explosion of new and sometimes contradictory ways of commemorating and objectifying the recent past: from state-sponsored regional history museums to personal memoirs, internet websites and independent films. One thing that many of these forms of memory share is a nostalgic view of events that until recently had been considered too painful, personal, or controversial to be remembered publicly—a trend that elsewhere has been decried by historians who view nostalgia as an inauthentic and uncritical way of disengaging the power of history. But does nostalgia necessarily falsify and trivialize the past? This paper explores the nostalgic turn in contemporary China through an examination of nostalgic narratives in the Museum of Macau, where Macau's history of Portuguese governance is represented not as a source of China's humiliation but as a sign of China's cosmopolitan openness. Examining how and why museum planners, administrators and visitors valued different aspects of Macau's past, and the different kinds of nostalgia arising from these diverse views, I argue that the forms of representation within the museum provide space for the intersection of public history and individual memories in ways that allow the past to become a powerful, multivalent resource for imagining a range of possible futures.

林木 Lin Mu

A Serious Distortion in the Awareness and Reality of History: the Interference and Failure on the History of Evolutionism in the 20th Century on the Study of Chinese Art History

Because Chinese art history originated in the West, scientism and social evolutionism completely distorted the study of Chinese art history in the 20 th century.

Under the influence of scientism, Chinese art history was defined as “ten thousand miles of tarragon”, that is, without a single redeeming feature. Scientism in art history proclaimed the “great victory of realism in its struggle against non-realism.” But Chinese art, in fact, has nothing to do with oriental impressionism as Westerners often call it. According to the theory of social evolutionism, Chinese art reached a peak during Tang dynasty. Actually, it had not: the two themes of the landscape and the flower-and-bird were not yet present. The same theory claims that for 2000 years, art in China bears the characteristics of feudalism; even a decline was observed during the dynasties from the Song to the Qing: “more water was added to the wine”, was the verdict. The worst was reached during the Ming and the Qing dynasties. Tang Qichang and the “four kings” were utterly despised ; but they are in fact pioneers in their way of blending old and new art expressions. In clearing the distortion in methodology in the art history of the 20 th century, this paper aims to derive new methods in the study of Chinese art history, and aims to reveal the originality of “memory”. On an academic level, this is an extremely urgent task.

葛剑雄 Ge Jianxiong

The Building of China's Geo-History Information System and Its Application for the Study of History and Memory

Traditional maps for the study of history can only reveal a particular year upon selection on a specific historical period. It is impossible to show the gradual development between time and space in history. The building of China's Geo-History Information System, through the integration of Geo-Information System (GIS) and digital mapping technology, indicates gradual yearly to monthly changes from frontiers to central administrative regions within China , as well as social and natural geographic variations, from Qin dynasty to modern China. It provides first-hand sources and evidences, and allows search in its database through multiple and convenient access. Information within a selected period and space, including documentations, documents, photos, pictures and videos are clearly located and can be retrieved with simple indexes Such a database will deeply influence research into the field of history and memory. In the future, similar database should expand to other countries using the same writing (Chinese characters), including Korea , Japan, Vietnam and Macau.

Guido Abbattista

IT and the Job of the Historian: An Outline of Ongoing Issues

The main points that this paper will address concern:

1. Assessing the impact of IT in the field of scholarly communication seen in the context of the general problems of academic historical publishing, historical source accessibility, scientific products dissemination, with specific reference to the forms of historiographical communication

2. Defining the problem of quality evaluation of historiographical products, forms of quality evaluation and a further push towards quality attainment and methodological soundness

3. A tentative analysis of the impact of IT on historical audiences with regard to different cognitive attitudes, such as competence, knowledge, awareness and common sense

4. Prospective reflections on IT and the scope of history with reference to parochialism (localism, communalism, regionalism) and globalization: antidote or mousetrap ?

Larry Sanger

The Future of Free Information

What would the ideal information resource look like? How does Wikipedia fall short of this ideal? And are its shortcomings necessary features of the sort of project that it is? That is, is there something inherent in "open source" (better, "open content" or simply "free") projects that makes them apt to be unreliable? Wikipedia and the Digital Universe will both involve the public to a very great extent, because that seems necessary to create exhaustive and high-quality information resources; but is it possible for the general public to be managed so as to create work of high reliability? Moreover, while Wikipedia has a neutrality policy, many have doubted its fidelity to that policy; does Wikipedia's experience demonstrate that neutrality is impossible, or is there some other way to secure this ideal? I will argue that the Digital Universe offers hope that it is possible to build a public-contributed information resource managed by experts that is comprehensive, reliable, and neutral. Time permitting, I will argue that our first crude forays in this direction should not be discouraging, because free encyclopedias are natural institutions, and some institutions—particularly the new sort of institution of free content—do, over time, permit a great deal of trial and error. So we'll get it right eventually.

徐友渔 Xu Youyu

The Chinese Cultural Revolution: A Concealed History and a Memory Awaiting Saving

History, memory and life are intrinsically linked. From a certain perspective, life can be defined as follows: human is an animal with intensive memory; and for these men, the existence and history of one's ethnic group is related to his/her own memory. History is memory, that is, a memory process through reflexive interpretation. Memory is essential for the life of a nation. Whenever a nation encounters difficulties, memory becomes the medium of resistance and triumph over calamity. Distortion or elimination of memory is to destroy history and to strangle the vitality of a nation.

The Chinese cultural revolution, which occurred in the 60s, was a nightmare and unforgettable part of our history. But it had been consciously, systematically distorted and forgotten, due to the fear to face all the vested interests involved, as well as spiritual weaknesses. However, responsible Chinese will never forget their duty towards history. They had been striving hard to save this part of their history and memory. Although they were faced with setbacks, they had never been discouraged and abandoned the project. They will return to their history and succeed in their search for real facts.

Michel Bonnin

How the “Lost Generation” Recovers its Memory? The Political Significance of the Debate about the Memory of the Cultural Revolution and of the Educated Youth Movement.

Since the beginning of the 1990s, the ex-Red Guards and educated youth (zhiqing) have been involved in a “remembrance work” (travail de mémoire) concerning their youth which has given birth to many publications, films, exhibitions, websites debates, etc. These activities have been mainly “unofficial” (minjian) . They have expressed a common desire to recover memory outside — and sometimes against— official oblivion or intentional distortion. However, this generation has not produced a unified memory for that period. There are different types of memory, which have clashed through the debate on the question of “regret” or “no regret” about their youth.

This paper will try and elucidate the reasons for the large interest in this “remembrance work”, as well as the present meaning of the confrontation concerning the memory of Maoist China.

Marie-Claire Lavabre

Can We Influence Memory?

Can one act on social and political identities which are rooted in the past and representations of the past? The pragmatic implications of the question are transparent. But insofar as this question raises ethical issues and theoretical problems it cannot be answered simply.

The pragmatic side of the question "can one influence memory?" is how to act in a past-burdened present to re-establish trust, achieve reconciliation, and guarantee civil peace. Clearly, this aspect of the question inevitably raises ethical issues. The notion of "duty of remembrance" testifies to the necessity of memory, to the fact that forgetting, particularly when it is decreed, is seldom an acceptable alternative.

Can forgetting be decreed? Can remembrance be subjected to the will, to "a duty"? And can memory, given its selective nature, its subjectivity and emotional character, submit to political rationality? Do the politics of memory achieve their aim? Memory, considered as a trace of the past as it actually happened, is a form of resistance to all forms of manipulation of that past. If, on the other hand, the present defines the past and reconstructs it permanently, memory is nothing but interpretation and a fact of communication. In short, when we speak of memory are we speaking of the weight of the past or the choice (reconstruction) of a past?

While it is true that collective memory can ultimately be conceived as the result of the interaction of lived or transmitted experience and official historic or institutional constructions, it is a movement and a working process. A process of reduction of the diversity of remembrances, of homogenising interpretations of the past. The work of memory, like all work, takes time.

Rana Mitter

The Duty of Memory: The Nanjing Massacre, Memory and Forgetting in China and Japan

The furore over what happened in Nanjing in the winter of 1937-38 has become a touchstone of Sino-Japanese relations in the new millennium. In China, the episode is used as the archetypal example of the type of atrocity for which Japan has not yet apologized or made amends; in Japan, opinions vary, from those who dismiss the Massacre as a fabrication to those who argue that the savagery of Japan's past means that even now it should remain a non-militarized state.

This paper will suggest that the ability of China and Japan to move on beyond the current controversy cannot, and will not, simply be a product of exercises in historical interpretation of the Incident alone. Instead, the “duty of memory” demands that both sides must examine the reasons that the Nanjing Massacre reemerged into public memory in the last two decades. In particular, why was it that the events of 1937-38 were hidden from view so long in China itself, and why is there a new enthusiasm in Japan for claiming that their role in Asia before 1945 was a noble one?

How to move on from what seems to be the danger of sterility, of going round in circles, that threatens the current debates about the Massacre? The answer must lie in widening the context of discussion and assigning new responsibility to both sides. In acknowledging publicly the reasons why the Nanjing Massacre, and its context, were hidden from view for so long, a new Chinese openness about the partiality of their own historiography can act as a challenge to the Japanese whose biased views of the Massacre they rightly condemn. The duty of memory, after all, also involves responsibility.

Olivier Wieviorka

The French Resistance, Between Memory and History

During World War II, the French resistance has never been a very powerful movement. On the whole, it had gathered around 300,000 French (on a population of 40 millions inhabitants) and it has played a very limited part in the Army operations. This small military contribution, however, has been magnified after the war, giving the Resistance a large share in the French national memory. This memory has been strengthened by two political parties – the Communists and the Gaullists – trying to impose their view of the past by various means (monuments, demonstrations...). After 1969-1971, however, the memory of the Resistance has been attacked, and become weaker and weaker until nowadays.

The paper will examine the constitution of the Resistance memory, the main themes and their expressions (monuments, films). It will show the discrepancy between memory and history and will try to explain why the myth is sometimes more powerful than the scientific discourse. It will at least explain the reasons of the decline of this memory in contemporary France .

Gary Baines

Representing and Remembering the Soweto Uprising: Constructing the Narrative of South Africa’s Liberation Struggle

June 16, 1976 is a significant and symbolic date in the narrative of South Africa's liberation struggle. It has been declared a public holiday by the ANC government and is now known as Youth Day. The focal point of the annual celebrations is the Hector Petersen Memorial in Soweto which is situated near the site where the twelve year-old was one of 23 students gunned down by police during demonstrations against the apartheid government's edict that the Afrikaans language should be a medium of instruction in black schools. The memorial erected to pay tribute to Petersen is recognition of his stature in the pantheon of struggle heroes. An unlikely hero, Peterson's death becames symbol of the struggle largely on account of Sam Nzima's iconic photograph which shows Mbuyisa Makhubu fleeing the scene of the shootings whilst cradling Petersen's lifeless body. This image has been endlessly reproduced and remediated and so has become emblematic of the Soweto urprising and liberation struggle in post-apartheid South Africa .

This paper will commence by briefly examining the background to June 16 and the construction of the narrative of the Soweto uprising in a range of representations including: newspaper reports, the 'official' version of the apartheid government in the Cillié Commission report, oral history in the form of testimony given to the Truth & Reconciliation, and historical works. Then it will offer a reading of three key 'memory texts' which have contributed to the heroicization of Petersen: first, the Nzima photograph; secondly, the Memorial; and, thirdly, the celebration of Youth Day. It will be argued that these 'memory texts' serve to connect private experiences and public life, personal and collective or social memory (Kuhn 1995). Invariably personal narratives are subsumed by statist ones. In this case, it will be suggested that the community narrative of the Soweto uprising constructed essentially by black journalists and novelists, and reified by the rhetoric of community leaders, has been conflated with the nationalist narrative of the liberation struggle. In other words, the story of the Soweto uprising has been inserted into a triumphalist master narrative by cultural brokers and politicians. The paper will conclude by offering some insights into the intersection of history and memory in the light of this study.