Re­mem­brance takes many forms in Mem­ory

The Georgia Straight - - Opinion -

Aby Char­lie Smith

s Canada ap­proaches the 100th an­niver­sary of the end of the First World War on Novem­ber 11, a great deal is be­ing writ­ten and broad­cast about that mo­men­tous event. The cen­te­nary of the first Re­mem­brance Day has also prompted schol­ars to col­lab­o­rate on a book called Mem­ory,

which ex­plores how in­for­ma­tion is ex­pe­ri­enced, con­ceived, stored, retrieved, and some­times for­got­ten.

Edited by Philippe Tortell, Mark Turin, and Mar­got Young for the Peter Wall In­sti­tute of Ad­vanced Stud­ies, Mem­ory in­cludes es­says fo­cus­ing on ev­ery­thing from ge­net­ics to astro­physics to Indige­nous his­tory.

A chap­ter by UBC an­thro­pol­ogy pro­fes­sor Wade Davis, “Eco­log­i­cal Am­ne­sia”, of­fers a re­minder that pas­sen­ger pi­geons once ac­counted for 40 per­cent of North Amer­ica’s bird pop­u­la­tion. Hunters slaugh­tered them in pur­suit of food, and by 1900 the last one in the wild was killed.

Davis also re­calls the dev­as­ta­tion of the buf­falo pop­u­la­tion, which out­num­bered hu­man be­ings in North Amer­ica in 1871. Ac­cord­ing to Davis, they dis­ap­peared as a re­sult of “a cam­paign of bi­o­log­i­cal ter­ror­ism un­par­al­leled in the his­tory of the Amer­i­cas”— more than 100 mil­lion were killed.

Af­ter con­sid­er­ing why hu­mans for­get eco­log­i­cal holo­causts of this mag­ni­tude, Davis re­flects on what hu­man­ity can learn from Indige­nous peo­ple’s re­la­tion­ship with the nat­u­ral world.

In an­other es­say, called “Global 1918”, UBC his­to­ri­ans Tara Mayer and Pheroze Un­walla note that Re­mem­brance Day com­mem­o­rates peace in Europe a cen­tury ago. How­ever, they em­pha­size that this was fol­lowed by far more ag­gres­sive colo­nial­ism. One of those be­trayed by the Ar­mistice was Ma­hatma Gandhi, who sup­ported the Bri­tish war ef­fort.

Af­ter promis­ing greater po­lit­i­cal in­de­pen­dence, the Bri­tish “cracked down on the na­tion­al­ist move­ment in In­dia as soon as the war ended”, Mayer and Un­walla write. “Un­der the guise of com­bat­ting sedi­tion, they sus­pended habeas cor­pus, al­lowed in­def­i­nite in­car­cer­a­tion, and sharply cur­tailed free­doms of assem­bly and the press.”

Five months af­ter the first Re­mem­brance Day, Col. Regi­nald Dyer or­dered troops to fire into un­armed crowds in the Jal­lian­wala Bagh gar­den in Am­rit­sar, killing hun­dreds.

“Ap­par­ently, the lessons Euro­peans claimed to have learned from the ‘war to end all wars’ were not go­ing to be ap­plied be­yond Europe it­self,” the UBC his­to­ri­ans write.

Other chap­ters in­clude French com­puter sci­en­tist Serge Abite­boul’s ex­am­i­na­tion of the im­mor­tal­ity cre­ated by dig­i­ti­za­tion, UBC ed­u­ca­tion pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus Jo-ann Archibald’s in­sights into Indige­nous stored mem­ory, and Univer­sité de Mon­tréal his­to­rian Cyn­thia E. Mil­ton’s look at mem­ory through the prism of vis­ual arts. It’s an in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary in­tel­lec­tual smor­gas­bord for any­one ea­ger to in­ves­ti­gate mem­ory in a mul­ti­tude of ways.

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