Ottoman History and Paradigmatic Principles of History -XII- (Mustafa Özcan, November 2015)

Ottoman History and Paradigmatic Principles of History -XII- 

When the theme taken up  in the previous essay was individual memory, the theme of this essay that followed would be collective memory that is within the group and characterized as its form that has been transformed into its dialectical  complementary opposite. Therefore, I will touch upon the theme of collective memory in the context of its relations with the history.

Altough the first person that has drawn attention to the collective memory as a social feature was the renowned French sociologist E. Durkheim, it was the H. Bergson’s doctoral student French social philosopher Maurice Halbwachs (1877-1945) who introduced the issue as a concept in the social sciences. This study by Halbvachs  who died from diphtheria in 1945 in the Buchenwald Concentration Camp Weimar where he was sent to by the Nazis due to his Jewish roots also means the creation of the most important conceptual bridge between history and sociology (more appropriately, we should say social psychology).

The study was published after his death in the year 1950 as a book under the title of “La Mémoire  collective”. The theme of collective memory was thus imparted into the literature of sociology and social psychology with a seminal nature (vitalizing the issue) and started to be taken up within the scope of community relations. However, it should be recalled that the author has started to discuss the theme of collective memory even towards 1920s with the accompaniment of E. Durkheim’s  mentorship in a context as the process where the individuals in the group in existence reconstructed their memories with agreement in the event that the “social framework changed.” 

The collective memory that could be defined with an abstractive approach as the instrumentalization of the social phenomenon of the past for use within the scope of an objective, goal has different versions that have been created under classification according to national sociologies. This matter emerges as differences especially in German and French classifications as it was a subject of the Continental philosophy.

While the French divided  collective memory into three as formal, live, and history-oriented in a manner close to politics, the Germans divide it into two as cultural and communicative with a technical approach close to social and subject it to a different typification. It may thus be concluded that  a full agreement has not yet been reached about the diversification of the collective memory through classification. 

Formal and live memories, one of which provides an ideological source to the official history of the nations and the other one functions as the group reconciliation  memory that constructed the local history, become the source of historian’s memory that creates a dialectic synthesis out of them, which are characterized as two opposite poles that are complementary to each other. In other words, these two unique memories at levels that could also be characterized as ceiling and floor in the systemic hierarchy of the society provide the source for the historian’s memory for a general historical form that has oriented towards becoming universal in the hands of the historian from two types of historical form as formal and local. 

Furthermore,  collective memory also has a nature that represents the group identity.  In this context, collective memory has functions as its features in the group identity and representation as group affiliation, representation of the group’s active history, the framework and instrumentalization provider for the group’s social setup, becoming a symbol for the meaning of the moment. Thus, in a nutshell, collective memory process is the reconstruction, justification and glorification work, starting with being ourselves, for our past as the identity under the impact of our affiliation motive in order to ensure , based on our autobiographical and episodic live memories, that we stand as we are against the new, threatening social conditions surrounding us.

It is not possible not to see that autobiographical memory is in the core of the collective memory when compared with individual memory. Autobiographical memory that is the personal one of the narrative (episodic) memory is synthesized by the historian as a historian’s memory in this context in a dialectical perspective towards objective from subjective on the basis of the events and people for construction of history. In other words, the history, that is being constructed by moving towards objectification in an asymptotic manner with a transition from the particular to the universal in this way, is, therefore, a discipline as it is today that would never be able to be fully objective. Namely, history can be fallible as it would contain subjectivities at the least. And it is the most important human science striving to approach to what is the accurate and most comprehensive as a systematic that represent the social identity of the cultural phenomenon that describes renewable part. 

In conclusion, history is keeping by the mankind the track of its own historicity through its collective memory and certain social movements in line with cultural factors. In other words, it is keeping a record of the past in the context of the events and individuals in accordance with the objective of its cultural memory.

It can be said in the light of the foregoing, while the there should not be “us” in the historian’s narrative, there is nothing in the collective memory’s narrative that is “not us.”

It should be emphasized while it is appropriate that there are some contradictions in terms of their scopes between the history’s narrative and the collective memory’s narrative. For instance, while the collective memory’s narrative concerns micro events as the local historical narrative, the general historical narrative develops with a nature of constructing a content towards macro events. In this regard, the historians (the historical community) shall always enlarge in the future the framework of historical interpretation by adopting an effort toward more universal. It would be an appropriate description to call this substance “meta-level paradigmatic principle of history.” 

Mustafa Özcan (November 2015)

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