Re­mem­ber, re­mem­ber

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

How will we re­mem­ber these sum­mer hol­i­days, now that meth­ods of record­ing events are so in­stant, in­volv­ing lit­tle thought and much tech­nol­ogy? Re­mem­ber­ing is hu­man: the abil­ity to store mem­o­ries en­ables us to learn, build re­la­tion­ships and tell right from wrong. what is per­son­al­ity if not mem­ory? or friend­ship, com­posed of rec­ol­lec­tions of shared hap­pen­ings?

The hu­man an­i­mal is not quite unique in be­ing able to pass on mem­o­ries from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion, but we cer­tainly do so to a vastly greater ex­tent and in in­fin­itely more so­phis­ti­cated ways than the rest of Cre­ation. we progress by build­ing on knowl­edge ac­quired by those who came be­fore; col­lec­tive mem­o­ries –per­haps trans­muted into myth—are what bind so­ci­eties to­gether, hence the im­por­tance of re­mem­ber­ing the Bat­tle of the Somme. No­body who took part is still alive, yet the mem­ory is part of who we are.

How for­tu­nate we are to have let­ters, di­aries and sketches from the past—noth­ing so vividly brings pre­vi­ous ages be­fore our eyes. of­ten, like Sa­muel Pepys, di­arists wrote not for pos­ter­ity, but so that the au­thor had a prac­ti­cal record of events and ex­pe­ri­ences.

Alas, fu­ture his­to­ri­ans won’t thank us for texts and emails. So­cial me­dia may have en­cour­aged a resur­gence of writ­ten com­mu­ni­ca­tion, but very lit­tle is more than ephemeral and the sheer vol­ume of dig­i­tal traf­fic will bring all but the most dogged of read­ers to their knees. And who has not known the pain of los­ing a trea­sured cache of im­ages when a mo­bile phone is lost or bro­ken?

Two events from last month demon­strate the im­por­tance of mem­ory. one was the con­vic­tion of an Is­lamic ex­trem­ist, re­spon­si­ble for de­stroy­ing mau­soleums and a mosque door in Tim­buktu, by the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court in The Hague.

Not ev­ery­one be­lieves that van­dal­ism of this kind can pos­si­bly be equated with the tor­ture or mur­der of peo­ple, but mon­u­ments are the repos­i­to­ries of mem­ory and es­sen­tial to the iden­tity of the so­ci­ety that built and pre­serves them.

Re­cently, we have seen the raz­ing of li­braries, mu­se­ums, re­li­gious build­ings and works of an­tiq­uity in acts of cul­tural geno­cide de­signed to de­stroy the eth­nic groups to whom they be­long just as surely as the mur­der of mem­bers of those groups.

How­ever, even Chair­man Mao’s dev­as­tat­ing Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion in China ul­ti­mately failed—wit­ness the in­ter­est in tra­di­tional Chi­nese art shown by cul­ti­vated Chi­nese—and we hear that Tim­buktu has been largely re­built. This is, in its way, as heart­en­ing as the re­cent news that a pos­si­ble treat­ment for Alzheimer’s, a dis­ease that de­con­structs the suf­ferer’s per­son­al­ity by at­tack­ing their mem­ory, may be get­ting closer.

Fash­ion usu­ally rein­vents it­self, so per­haps we can hope that some of to­day’s gen­er­a­tion of his­tory stu­dents will have recog­nised the ur­gency of record­ing mo­men­tous events this sum­mer.

The BBC and the Bri­tish Li­brary are al­ready ad­dress­ing this need by seek­ing vol­un­teers who are happy to have their con­ver­sa­tions recorded and archived for The Lis­ten­ing Project ( oral-his­tory/the-lis­ten­ing-project). As a re­source for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, these will of­fer in­valu­able in­sights into our in­creas­ingly vir­tual world.

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