Remembrance takes many forms in Memory
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.