Searching for an essay?

Browse the database of more than 4500 essays donated by our community members!

In Support of the Autonomy of History

Someone wrote recently “The value of memory is on the rise”[1], while really (to continue using business language, appropriate although insufficient to describe the phenomenon) it has been going up for years, not only or even mainly in Spain. It is a worldwide phenomenon, also preceding the Taubira law which, in France in 2002, declared slavery to be a crime against humanity and therefore without time limits. Years earlier, Tzvetan Todorov wrote that at the end of the millennium Europeans, and especially the French, were obsessed by the new cult to memory: a museum a day, every month with a commemoration of a notable event. But if France was distinguished by its “commemorative fever” for its “frenzy of historical liturgies”, Great Britain was not far behind: the “preservationist mania”, wrote Raphael Samuel, who had invaded all areas of national life[2].

The increase in the value of memory is the result of the convergence, in a short period of time, of the rise of the new cultural history – with its moves towards the subject and towards language – with the proliferation of the politics of identity in the final decades of the last century, and with post-modernist thought, to the extent that it conceives of the past as a repertoire from which, without any consideration of what they meant in their own time, fragments may be extracted with the purpose of contributing to the construction of the present according to the interests of everyone concerned. As a by-product of the crisis of social history with structuralist and Marxist tradition, studies, guided by a defined purpose and having close ties to the desire to build a differentiated identity as a group, a gender, a race, a nation, based on the postulate of collective memory, came to the forefront in relating to the past.

Writing service




[Rated 96/100]

Prices start at $12
Min. deadline 6 hours
Writers: ESL
Refund: Yes

Payment methods: VISA, MasterCard, American Express


[Rated 94/100]

Prices start at $11
Min. deadline 3 hours
Writers: ESL, ENL
Refund: Yes

Payment methods: VISA, MasterCard, American Express, Discover


[Rated 91/100]

Prices start at $12
Min. deadline 3 hours
Writers: ESL, ENL
Refund: Yes

Payment methods: VISA, MasterCard, JCB, Discover

The result of these trends is that “collective memory” has today become, as Astrid Erll writes, a buzzword, a word that buzzes all around us, not just in the academic world, but in the political arena, in the media, in the arts. So much does it buzz that for those that celebrate it, the question of “history and/or/as memory” is not a fruitful approach to the cultural representations of the past and, in consequence, it proposes nothing less than “the breaking up of the useless confrontation of history versus memory in favor of a notion of different manners of recollection within a culture”? Myth, religious memory, political history, trauma, family reminiscences, or generational memory are different ways of referring to the past, and, seen from this point of view, history would be nothing more than another method of recollection within a culture.

Perhaps the disappearance of history as specific knowledge of the past has never been proposed in such a clear manner, dissolved in a mixture of “new cultural memory studies”, the endpoint of the process of the dissolution of that which is social into that which is cultural, the replacement of the explication of social processes by the interpretation of cultures and, finally, the conception of history as an intra-linguistic activity: three streams that converge in their similar disdain for history as knowledge, based on scientific research into the past[3].

If the hegemony of cultural things in the interpretation of the past, together with the identity problems of a globalized society, determined the increase in the value of memory, the comet-like rise of its shares and the speed of its expansion is related to the relevance acquired by the representation of the extermination of the Jews by the Nazis as a Holocaust or Shoah in general American and European awareness. It happened, years after the trial of Eichmann, with the screening of the mini-series Holocaust in April 1978 on NBC, in the United States, and in January 1979 on German television.

The series, which reached over 200 million Americans and was watched by 15 million Germans, had a direct influence on the configuration of the memory of the Nazi extermination as a Holocaust and played a decisive role in the abolition by the Bundestag, that same year, of the time limits for war crimes, and on the setting in motion of the process that would culminate in the creation of the Holocaust Museum in Washington[4]. For the first time, a historical event reconstructed in a TV series had a direct influence on political decisions and opened the door to legal proceedings regarding events of the past. For the first time, what Charles Maier called the “illustrious industry of the Holocaust”, apart from filling social memory with content, achieved a decisive political effect and had legal repercussions. The potential of this discovery would only grow over the following years.

So this was the turning point in the increase in the value of memory as a privileged road to the past and as a recognition of the presence of the past in the present through social and political practices which have accompanied its emergence, consolidation and ritualization. What is important for our needs here, is not to reach a definition of what collective memory or historical memory may mean, and their differences from autobiographical or personal memory in order to then establish their possible relationship with history, but to investigate who remembers, what is remembered, how, for what purposes, with what means; what is important are the artifices and practices of memory, not what each person speculates or philosophizes about their relationship with history.

With regard to the Holocaust, these practices have consisted, above all, in a demand that the past should not be past, that is to say that it should determine present-day policies. Furthermore, it involved the discrediting of history, which it usually defines as official and which it supposes to be written by the winners or by those who prosper in their shadow who, in fulfilling their function in the service of power, will have spread a mantle of amnesia and silence over the victims by situating them on the periphery of the present. Memory, however, gives a voice to the surviving witness, who “has more to say about what happened there than all the historians put together” because “only those who were there know what it was like; others can never know”, a thesis of Elie Wiesel’s about which Primo Levi would have a lot to say when he wrote that for real knowledge of the Lager, the Lagers themselves were not good observatories[5].

On the other hand, the artifices of memory work within the institutional recognition of a special statute for victims with whom society as a whole has contracted a perennial debt which will only be met if the duty of permanent grief is established and if the State promotes public policies: to legislate about the past, to celebrate a day of remembrance, to administer justice for the crimes committed, to institutionalize a codified narrative about that past, to build places of remembrance, to legislate on teaching in schools and to extend a social memory by the celebration of rituals or the opening of museums that will develop programs of exhibitions and courses and conferences.

So for the past not to pass, apart from public grants set up in a regular manner – like those received by the Holocaust Museum in Washington since it was created – needs the presence of new professionals dedicated to the trans-national administration of justice, and the creation, organization and maintenance of remembrance practices. These are entrepreneurs, the so-called memory executives who aim, in a struggle with other executives or businessmen, for the “social recognition and political legitimization of one (their) version or narrative of the past”[6]. Anyway, in the United States, where the integrationist ethos has been substituted for an individualist ethos, remembrance of the Holocaust has been directed towards the construction of a separate Jewish identity, and in the State of Israel that very memory of the Holocaust, as Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former Homeland Defence and Foreign Minister wrote, is today the greatest incentive for the military, the greatest justification for Israeli tenacity in the face of its enemies[7].

This rise in remembrance of the Holocaust and of its implications on the relationship with the past has continued to arouse questions and doubts among Jewish historians and essayists who have underlined the risks of memory saturation as a block to the future, as reification and consecration of the Holocaust, as the imposition of a tale which eliminates the critical and necessarily pluralistic and debatable nature of history, the oblivion which blankets the non-Jewish victims of Nazi extermination policies and finally, the dependence on the voice of witnesses which, as the director of the Yad Vashem archive admitted to a journalist, was not reliable: of the twenty thousand statements held in his archive “many were never in the place where they stated they had witnessed atrocities, others were based on second-hand information provided by friends or strangers who happened to be passing through”[8].

Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, in his address at the Royaumont conference on “The Uses of Forgetting”, insisted emphatically that only the historian, with his austere passion for the facts, the proof, the evidence, which are essential in his vocation, can maintain a guard against those who attempt to suppress a man in a photo, leaving behind only his hat[9]. And Shlomo Sand warns, regarding Claude Lanzmann’s conscious and intentional refusal to include any reference to France’s participation in sending Jews to the extermination camps and to use archive images in his famous film Shoah, instead of basing it mainly on Polish testimony: “when we substitute critical history for personal recollection, we are bringing in an element of political manipulation which clears the way, consciously or unconsciously, for a new kind of mythological presentation of the past”[10].

It is the same thing that Henri Rousso had already observed when he wrote that memory belongs to the register of the sacred, of faith, and is subject to refoulement, “while there is nothing that is outside the field of the historian”. Memory, when bringing the past into the present with the aim of establishing a duty – which may be of grief or celebration, of reparation or glory -, or of building a differentiated identity, necessarily forgets.

This is proved incontrovertibly by the forgetting until very recently of the German victims of the Allies in cities systematically set ablaze by British bombings, or the torture and cruelty suffered, also at Allied hands, by displaced German populations in the immediate post-war period which we have only heard of through the work of historians, not because anyone has decided to implement remembrance policies for those victims. So history, unlike memory, is obliged to tell everything so that facts gathered about the past should continue to increase so that the flow of books and monographs should grow even if they are only read by specialists, so that copies not read should be kept on shelves. This is what Yerushalmi also called for, “because it is the only way for nothing to be wiped out forever”.

What “nothing” means is even that which is forgotten by memory. That is why once the period that Pierre Nora called Histoire-Memoire reached its end, at the service of nation-building and cultivation of patriotic sentiment, over the second half of the 20th century, history, seen as scientific knowledge of the past with its critical requirements, has taken a long road of total autonomy with regard to memory, to the point that “no memory can be recognized in the past constructed by historiographical research”, as Juan José Carreras observed[11].

History cannot renounce its essence of critical knowledge that was acquired over decades of scientific work as its objects multiplied and diversified. So it will not matter if history can or should do damage to memory on occasions, as Paul Ricoeur admitted with a beautiful metaphor when checking the matrix line between memory and history which he himself had postulated when he referred to the “re-appropriation of the historical past by memory instructed and frequently harmed by history”[12].

In the wake of the Holocaust

In Spain, the origin of today’s political and social practices regarding memory can be located in the final years of the last century, when complaints about the transition as a time of amnesia, silence, forgetting, or un-memory achieved generalized success, in the first place through the use of the past as a weapon in the party debate from the moment when the Partido Popular (Popular Party) became a credible government alternative and, above all, from the presentation from 1998 onwards of a long series of motions in several Congressional commissions on matters relating to the Civil War and the post-war repression[13]; and furthermore, because of the wide-ranging social movement set in motion at the start of the present century by the generation of grandchildren of the war in favor of the exhumation and proper burial of the bodies of those murdered in the early days of the military rebellion of July 1936, who still lie anonymously in mass graves.

Also in Spain, remembrance as a political practice and as a social movement with political derivations has been constructed on the universal model of remembrance of the Holocaust and following its guidelines:

1) The requirement that the past should not be over, that is to say that the past, with its content controlled by those who construct it as a duty of remembrance, should be a determining factor in the policies of the present.

2) The denunciation of the whole history of the transition, written up to this point, as an official history that was dictated by those in power, set out in academic institutions outside society, aimed at hiding the past or working towards forgetting it.

3) The priority of the voice of witnesses, a warm voice in contrast with the coldness of archives, the erudition of the library, or the supposed distance of the academic world which has been accused of having contributed to the silence regarding the crimes of Franco’s era.

4) The duty of grief which is substantiated in public policies regarding the past, among which perhaps the most important is the demand for the institutionalization of a social memory from those in power, also known as democratic memory.

5) The building of that social memory and its maintenance by methods such as establishing rituals, inaugurating museums and holding exhibitions, organizing guided tours to routes and locations of memories of the war and the dictatorship.

6) The abolition of the amnesty law of October 15th, 1977 and the legal classification of the crimes of the Franco period, such as forced disappearances with no information provided as to the whereabouts of the victims, so that they do not have a statute of limitation and may be prosecuted.

From these notes that define the practices of historical remembrance, what is debatable is not the timeliness or the need to legislate regarding recognition of and reparation for victims of the Civil War and the Franco dictatorship or, even less, the right of family members to exhume, identify and properly bury the bodies of the victims or leave them where they were buried, should they wish to keep the location as a remembrance site[14]. The passivity of the PP and PSOE governments in the process of exhumation and burial of victims is a dereliction of duty which, for reasons hard to understand, neither the law known as Historical Memory nor the subsequent policies of the Socialist government, have been able to remedy. Neither is there any doubt of the substantial contribution to knowledge about the Franco dictatorship, its foundations, and its nature, which we owe to studies of executions, murders, concentration camps, and purges.

As Juan José Carreras rightly pointed out, even if for marketing reasons the publishing houses present these studies as works aimed at the recovery of a memory that is presumed to be lost, they are real history books. But having said this, given that state institution, especially regional ones, aim to establish as their remembrance policies a social remembrance as the only interpretation of what happened in the Civil War and under the dictatorship, it is necessary to call for the autonomy of history as a field of critical knowledge of the past in its own right. Not that history holds exclusive rights: chronicles, novels, films, television, museums, plastic arts, memoirs, rituals, all enjoy identical rights within a democratic system and equally enjoy the same freedom to deal with the past as that which history can demand.

  • The need to know more about the repression is not arguable – it has been written about and debated continuously since the years of the transition -, nor is the right to exhume those murdered, nor the proper place of memories in the relationship with the past, nor the recognition and reparation of all the victims of the Civil War and the dictatorship. What is arguable, on the other hand, is the version which representatives in Congress, advertising agents and essayists in newspapers and magazines, memory professionals in various forums and associations, aim to impose regarding the transition as a time of generalized amnesia in which some opportunistic politicians with an eye on the main chance, starting with the Communists, acting upon a passive society, behaved like traitors and gave way, out of fear or self-interest, to the heirs of the dictatorship, granting them amnesty in exchange for a pardon for having exercised fundamental rights against it. It is said that an agreement to forget, forged between the leading elite of the Franco regime and the opposition parties, prevented Spaniards from speaking out so that the years of transition to democracy have been called the years of utmost silence and the Spanish people have been presented as having the dictatorship stuck in their throats, unable to expel it or swallow it.
  • Instead of investigating what has been published and debated in those years, it is stated dogmatically that the location of repressed memory was occupied by imposed silence. It does not matter what memories or narrations of the past, of the war and dictatorship were spread and disputed during the transition, but it is firmly stated that an odious pact spread a sepulchral silence over society. A policy of memory-wiping would have been launched by those in power and followed by the Spanish people, acting like sheep or monkeys who had had a lobotomy performed to remove the area in which memory resides. With our memories removed, we would have kept silent and let things go on.
See also  Examine Shirley Jackson's Use of Setting in Her Short Story "The Possibility of Evil"

This way of remembering the transition today, as well as hiding or scorning the long history of meetings and pacts between opposition parties and groups, with the parties and groups of dictatorship dissidents which began in the 40’s and kept going until the 70’s, does not take into account the fact that after the death of Franco there was a time of struggle, of learning and of pact-making during which memories of the past were very present with the explicit, conscious purpose that they should not block the path ahead: there lies the most singular and unrepeatable thing about those years. To trample the memories that were confronted in the transition to democracy – those that from positions of power attempted to block any reforming project, and those that led to the opening of a constituent process under guidelines leading towards the concept of an agreement – with the political aim of removing or denying legitimacy from what had been done up to that point, in order to impose instead a single narrative of social memory by means of laws and decrees, as well as disdain for the work carried out by different groups in opposition to the dictatorship, twists what happened during those years by attributing to the amnesty law the effect of disseminating throughout society a kind of amnesia which stopped people talking about the past.

It twists things because, in order to support this thesis, it merges the amnesty decree-law of July 1976, called for by an unprecedented mobilization of the people, approved by Adolfo Suárez’s first government, and aimed at the political prisoners of the dictatorship, with the amnesty law demanded by all opposition groups in the first elected parliamentary Congress since 1936 and enacted by Parliament on October 15th, 1977, when there were no longer any political prisoners of the dictatorship in prison. Unlike the decree-law of July 1976, this law was specifically aimed at setting free the remainder of ETA prisoners, those being tried or sentenced for crimes against public safety who had not been granted amnesty under the preceding decrees and had committed kidnappings and murders after the death of Franco.

The demand for this second amnesty arose from the ranks of the opposition and, more specifically from the PNV, whose representative in the Commission of Nine, Julio de Jáuregui, with the agreement of all the members of the Commission, proposed the need for an amnesty to the president of the government, through which “all those who committed crimes and outrages on both sides would have been pardoned and forgotten”[15]. As is well-known, the Government did not dare to enact an amnesty of this kind and it was again the opposition, once again at the initiative of the PNV, which took the bill to Congress. And contrary to what is often stated, the law enacted on 15th October 1977 did not mean equating the political prisoners of the dictatorship – who had been free for a year – with the repressing civil servants – perhaps equating these with ETA prisoners – neither did it impose a pact of silence or forgetting on society, as is proved by the enormous quantity of paper – newspapers, magazines, leaflets, books – and film – movies, TV, documentaries – dedicated to the Republic, the Civil War and the dictatorship from all points of view and all possible angles.

  • Secondly, more than arguable is the political-legal practice of reclassifying what in 1936 was a military rebellion and murders at the side of the road, in the streets or on pieces of wasteland, what in popular terms was known as “sacas” (dragging out) and “paseos” (strolls), and the shootings in execution of sentences handed down in courts-martial, classifying them seventy years later as crimes against State entities in the context of crimes against humanity, with the purpose of claiming competence for the High Court (Audiencia Nacional) to initiate legal proceedings against those guilty. It is true that the massacres in territory controlled by the rebels, in Seville, Badajoz or Malaga, just like some that took place in Republican territory, in Madrid and Barcelona, may be classified retrospectively as genocide and crimes against humanity.
  • But these events for which a legal process could be initiated were not classified as crimes against humanity in the codes of the 30’s and the persons who could be brought before the courts as alleged perpetrators are all known to be deceased. When, based on Law 52/2007 of 26th December 2007 referring to recognition of, and reparation for, victims of the Civil War and the dictatorship, the examining justice of Court Number 5 of the High Court opened a legal case against 35 ministers and other members of the hierarchy of the Movement or of the State on 8th October 2008 – two years after having received the corresponding judicial complaints from several organizations supporting recovery of historical remembrance -, he knew that none of them would be brought before the court for the simple reason that they were all dead and, even though it were only because of this, he would have to close the case once the deaths were certified. With this case, Judge Baltasar Garzón was not attempting to put anyone on trial for the crimes of the Franco regime; if he had been attempting to do so, he would not have set the limit to his warrant at December 1951, and neither would he have populated and closed his list of accused only with individuals who were members of government under the dictatorship up until that date, all deceased. The only established purpose of his warrant was to proclaim rulings while he was waiting for the death certificates, specifically ruling number 6 under which proceedings were to be carried out, under the control of the court of which he was judge, to exhume the remains, among others, of the poet Federico García Lorca[16].

This use of legal proceedings under the guise of recovery of historical memory is interesting here and now only because of its direct repercussion on history as knowledge of the past. In order to justify his warrant, the judge was forced to classify the murders or executions committed by the rebels as “forced disappearances with no information given as to the whereabouts of the victim”, that is to say, he projected on to our past history of military rebellion followed by countless murders, revolution and civil war, the view of a later time in a completely different situation: Argentina under the military dictatorship. In 2008, to legally classify the murder of García Lorca, committed in August 1936, as a forced disappearance with no information given as to the victim’s whereabouts is, if not a piece of legal nonsense, a political fraud, in the same way as it is a sign of ignorance to classify the 114,266 persons recorded in the statistics of his warrant killed, mostly as the result of iniquitous sentences in very summary courts-martial, as “victims disappeared in the period studied (17th July 1936 to December 1951)”. Those condemned did not disappear but were arrested, jailed, tried with no oversight at all for the crime of military rebellion, sentenced and shot under their real names, which appear in all the legal documents. Since when is a missing person someone who is executed by a firing squad? That the sentences should, rightly and for indisputable reasons, be annulled, as was demanded in a bill presented in Congress by the PSOE when in opposition and then shamefully abandoned once they came to power, does not modify the classification of the events: they were executed, they were not “disappeared”[17].

  • A third reason for criticism of the practices of remembrance involves the desire to place the past on the political agenda as if by doing so the key would be found to remedy deficiencies in the current democratic system arising out of it being built on a memory vacuum. This is also because of a motive that is related to our history: if a specific memory, classed as democratic, from a concrete past is imposed as an ethical requirement from which an improvement in the quality of our current democracy will have to be derived, then that remembered past will have to be represented in the present as if it were adorned by a superior quality of democracy. In this way we would not enter the kingdom of anachronisms but that of the mere uncritical beatification of the past, interpreted according to the political strategies of the present. Because from an anarchist-trade unionist, a Communist and from most Socialists from the majority party in the 30’s, any political values one wants might have been advocated: generosity, devotion, solidarity, loyalty to a cause or struggle for an ideal, but not that they were democrats beyond the instrumental sense that could be given to democracy as a step towards collectivism, socialism or dictatorship of the proletariat, the higher stages in the evolution of humanity. Nothing to be surprised at. In the Europe of the 30’s, democracy was not valued particularly highly, as at the end of the Great War, but rather the opposite, as was made obvious by the successful power grab of the Nazi and Fascist parties, the consolidation by the Communist party of a regime of terror in the Soviet Union and the criticisms of Liberalism and bourgeois Parliamentarianism by new generations of intellectuals.

For that reason, the workers’ struggles in the decades after the Great War, whether those of Anarchists, Communists or Socialists, are negated in their true extent when it is affirmed – for example in the preamble to the Democratic Memorial Law approved by the Catalonian Parliament[18] – that in those struggles lie the seeds of our democracy, and a rise in the level of its quality is expected with the recovery of their memory, reconstructed in a democratic tone. It is debatable whether a Parliament, in Catalonia or in any other place, should teach the citizens a lesson in history to show them what they should think about their past, but since they do, they should not hide the reality of events: the workers’ struggles prior to the end of the Second World War, in Catalonia or in any other place – but in any case, less so in Catalonia than anywhere else, due to the extraordinary entrenchment of anarcho-syndicalism during the Republic and the role played by the POUM in the war when it proclaimed that “the working class of Catalonia and the working class of the whole of Spain do not fight for a democratic Republic”[19] – they were not referring to the triumph of democracy, but rather to its destruction as an inevitable step towards the conquest of a new world.

In this respect, the declarations of young novelists and historians can be seen as illustrative. Disagreeing, as is their right, with the democracy in which they were born and raised, they blame political decisions made before their births for the poor quality of the democracy in which they live, and believe that by vehemently denouncing the traitors of yesterday, the democracy of the present will be more participative and egalitarian. It is curious that this same language has been assimilated and shared by some judges, lawyers and professors, now retired, who earned their places in the different state bureaucracies during the 1960´s, to whom one could apply what Marc Bloch used to say about certain erudite men who rose up vehemently against policies adopted some generations before: “Far from the guillotine this violence amuses without danger”. Furthermore, Bloch added, calling on history to renounce its “false archangel pretensions”: “It’s so easy to cry: to the firing squad!”[20]. Instead of shouting thirty years after the firing squad, it would be more fruitful, for history and for the democratic debate, for these judges, lawyers and professors to say why during the transition or, even more significantly, under the PSOE government, they did not demand or initiate the opening of any legal proceedings against the crimes of the Franco era. They could explain it, and their memory of those years would notably enrich our history, that is to say our critical knowledge of the transition and of the governments presided over by Felipe González.

  • Anyway, a fourth, more than debatable, mode of remembrance policies consists of the work carried out to displace the legitimacy of the current democracy from the process of transition in the 70’s to the proclamation of the Republic in 1931, as if our democracy suffered a deficit of legitimacy because it was constructed on a pact of forgetfulness and was in need of “recovering its memory” of the first Spanish democracy of the 20th century, previously idealized and almost suspended in time, on the festive afternoon of April 14th, 1931. In this respect, perhaps it does not come amiss to remember that Manuel Azaña wrote to Luis Fernández Clérigo in July 1939 that three years earlier, when the Government called everyone to defend the Republic, “many did not know any longer what they were defending and others defended knowingly the negation of the Republic”. For Azaña, the ever-lasting legitimacy that the Republicans could invoke consisted of “the right of the Spanish people to freely elect the government we want […] The regime born out of those conditions and which respects them, shall be legitimate”. Spain must be “placed in the situation of exercising that right. But let us refrain from identifying it with the Republic of 1931 or 1936, or with their institutions, laws, parties, methods and men, as if they all had to come back to life full of glory. However deeply held the memory of all that is, and however much the injustice with which it has been treated so often hurts us, and however much we are pained by the sterility of our work, we have to admit that it is dead”. And Azaña concluded: “In political life nothing is restored, in spite of appearances, and these three years and those that lie ahead will not have passed in vain, for good or for evil”[21].

No; the three years, plus the thirty-six that came afterwards, did not pass in vain, for good or for evil. The displacement of the legitimacy of the current democracy to the 1931 Republic, as if what occurred between its defeat and the end of the dictatorship could be enclosed in a parenthesis, as well as an illusory reconstruction of the model which is hoped will be restored as the only source of legitimacy, rejects as guilty or ignores as irrelevant the memory in force during the dictatorship which permitted, from the end of the Second World War, many encounters between dissidents of the same dictatorship and the opposition groups which emerged from the side of those defeated upon which the policy of pacts in the 70’s would be based. What mattered in those meetings was not monarchy or republic; what mattered, as the Communist Party saw, was dictatorship or democracy, a point on which the representatives from exile and those within were in agreement when they sat round the table. On this point, historians will have something to say, rehabilitating the autonomy of history, even if in the attempt they may be forced to drag out their own personal memory, part of the memory of a generation, that of the children of the war.

Outline of generational memory

For those of us dedicated to history as a form of autonomous knowledge, the difference between what we mean by individual memory and collective memory would have to be extended to what we mean when speaking of history and historical memory. In spite of the fact that the war turned the lives of our parents upside down and marked the destiny of all their children, those of us born during or shortly after the war, do not have nor can we have, any memory of the war or of anything that occurred during it. The “memory” of the war – historical for us and collective for those who administered it for us from a single centre of power – came to us later, when, as we grew up under the double mantle of a military Catholic State, with a Fascist element occupying a subordinate position in everything relating to the building of narratives about the war, we could only gain access to a single narrative of that past, a single version with all the ingredients of a salvation myth, a single memory then, in which we were saturated: there were so many occasions to remember it when we were children and adolescents, when we lacked the intellectual defences to protect ourselves or to propose in opposition any alternative account, which we only began to hear from anarchists or Communists, or from some Republican, either in Spain or in exile, in the years of our youth. They were contradictory accounts, opposing each other, very different from those that are now elaborated about the unstained Republic; accounts that because of their very fragmentation and fragility are incapable of making up a memory to oppose the one that was transmitted to us at school, from the pulpit, by the newspapers, on the radio, in the cinemas.

See also  Financial Management in Nonprofit Organizations

But the great national Catholic account was challenged by the generation of the middle of the last century, mostly made up of the children of the winners, although on many occasions calling them this seems ironic because not infrequently they were the children of winners murdered by “the Reds” in the early days of the military coup or killed in action; so children, in many cases, of losers on the side of the winners. These children were the ones who had the moral courage and political will to challenge the account of the father who could have given meaning to the child’s life if in the end the “community of memory” that rocked his or her cradle had prevailed over the freedom of constructing one’s own identity and embracing the cause of the defeated. Thanks to the older ones of that generation of children of the war, a space was opened up through which those of us who arrived a little later were able to stick our heads and free ourselves of the imposed memory, the collective or historical memory, it matters little, made up by totalitarian or dictatorial powers, who ensured it was implanted in the members of a society so that they would learn to enjoy the consolation of a common identity.

There is no reason to feel sorry about it or weep over it: that imposed memory, that myth about the past recited and celebrated by the Catholic Church as a basis upon which the political culture of the dictatorship was built, spread in school books and reproduced a thousand times in pictures on the documentary film news “No-Do”, –  an efficient instrument, which as children and teenagers we never wanted to miss because it was the only audiovisual window to the outside world, controlled by experts in the invention, construction and spreading of the myths and lies of the regime -. That myth, in which a savior sent by God came to free land from perdition thanks to the blood of martyrs which bore fruit in redemption and triumph over evil, was a fraud and useless for understanding what was then our present or for opening up the future. It simply needed to be thrown on the rubbish heap of history, nothing else.

That was our relationship with the account and celebration of the myth of salvation, with collective memory and with the political culture in which we socialized as young people; and that is the unpaid debt that we who arrived a little later, born when the civil war was over, contracted with our older brothers and sisters of that generation, the children of the war, who arrived when political awareness was awakening in the early 50’s and were heavily involved in the first university rebellion against the regime.

We contracted that debt with them because it freed us from a suffocating weight and cut the ties that prevented us from taking a fresh look at the past: not like someone who wants to remember collectively but someone who wants to know individually and debate his knowledge with others; not with the eyes of the memorialist but those of the public historian in his double dimension: because he writes for the public and because he debates in public with his colleagues and with the people he encounters in public situations. We found out almost intuitively, with no need for so much deliberation about memory and history – deliberation completely foreign to the debates of that time and no use now, because it is anachronistic in its explanation – that when it is a question of remembering the past that one has not experienced, and one tries to get others to share that memory with the aim of celebrating what happened collectively – as grief, as exaltation, as recognition… – inevitably the ability of memory to change the past according to the demands of the present comes into play, derived from the construction of a differentiated identity which only remembers what suits the purpose for which it is being built and forgets everything that might spoil a perfect construction.

It is the problems or interests of the present that determine what we remember and how we remember it and it is the people with political and social power, or those who aspire to wield political power and have social power – the management of a museum, for example, the commission of an exhibition, those responsible for making up and implementing policies of remembrance or administering international justice -, who decide what is remembered and where it is remembered. It is not, therefore, the past – a reactionary utopia – that never goes away, lurking in some odd corner of the collective sub-conscious, ready to leap into the conscious mind to influence the present once we expel the trauma by verbalizing it. This Freudian view was not the view of Halbwachs, who rather tended to see it the other way round, wondering how collective memory influenced the past and changed it.

To respond to this question, it is fundamental to ask who remembers, how, and for what reason, because it is characteristic of the cultivators of collective memory to look at the past from a singular perspective, which eliminates ambiguities and reduces events to myths, to accounts full of meaning for our present lives and our views of the future. Well then, who remembers, how, and for what reason, are questions whose answers were handed to our generation on a plate, it was there, in full view: the winners of a civil war in order to legitimize their power; For forty years, the collective memory of the war and of victory served for that purpose; to found a regime destined to last a millennium, with the past always present, never past. For that reason, when now we hear, as a sign of a progressive attitude: that the past should not be over, we can only feel the same disgust as when we were young we felt for those who told us that the past should not be over, the past when Spain was split between the conquerors and the defeated.

Also that the rejection of that memory was resolved into a policy of encounter, reconciliation and dialogue: the strength of the rejection of imposed memory was placed in service to the closure of the past as a determining factor in the politics of the present. And to the extent that it referred to what happened in the war and the post-war period, the very act of remembering served to consign it to oblivion, encouraging its knowledge. This expression has been called a trick if not a mere verbal ruse, a euphemism to hide the fear or aversion of risk, a complacent look at the transition so as not to talk about its deficiencies and its betrayals. But consigning to oblivion is exactly the opposite of amnesia or lack of memory and does not come down to “sidestepping” or “setting aside” the past, expressions that evoke a fear of confronting it, as if it were necessary to evade it, to hide it, to get it out of sight, in order to move forward.

Consigning to oblivion is to remember the past with the intention that a clear and vivid awareness of its existence as past should not block the way ahead. It could be said in the words of the legal expert, Stefano Rodotà, when he calls for the right to free ourselves of the ties that others impose on us and to reject the destiny of “becoming hostages to collective memory, prisoners of a past destined never to be over”; to exercise, then, a “right to forget”[22].

This figure of speech – consigning to oblivion – was used by the young generations of Spaniards after the 50’s, both inside Spain and in exile, to express the need for policies of reconciliation and dialogue that would finally be carried out in the transition. The expression needed to be further clarified with: close the past in its political and social effects, not wipe it from memory or hide it from knowledge, which are the tasks of history. Because that consigning to oblivion was contemporary with a real burst of interest in the past and coincided with the “tremendous rise” experienced by publications about the Civil War in 1975 and with the “enormous importance” that the war still had in 1991, as Walter Bernecker observed[23].

Instead of using the past for the political battles of the present, or remaining submerged in the emotions of remembering it, or, finally, raising to the level of collective memory any of the partial memories of the war, we chose to investigate, in order not to trust anyone’s memory, even less our own, which could be determined by what happened to our parents; we did it perhaps as a logical reaction to the account that was imposed on us and to the mass of remembered accounts that began to fill the void when there was room for everyone to tell how things had gone for him or her during the war and the dictatorship.

So it is not memory but history that looks to the past from all possible angles: history is critical of mythical accounts, it flees from the sacralization of the past and does not attempt to impose by law a single objective truth, having to accept the plurality of centers of production of accounts of the past and the complexity of the answers, and it does not attempt to celebrate anything and even less a war that split a society for decades. Between knowing the past and remembering it there is a distance that cannot be crossed lightly. It is not the distance that distinguishes between private things and public things, but rather between public things and political things: history is public, the memory that we call historical is political in the sense specified now in the Dictionary of Authorities (Diccionario de Autoridades): it is a memory for the glory of something or someone, and naturally if someone with political power remembers, it is to glorify what is remembered.

The historian, who by trade talks about the past, builds an account, in the same way as a person who remembers that same past constructs it. But even though the past may be called Auschwitz, the historian cannot identify his task with a duty of memory or with the voice of the witness. Even in the case of history and memory emerging from the same concern and even if history is born out of memory, at some point it will have to become independent if it aims to stand as a field of knowledge; even if the memory were the matrix or muse of history, at some moment it will have to shake it off and stop hearing its music[24].

When faced with a trend that waters down history into memory, whether it be historical, collective, social or cultural, it is necessary to listen to the cautions expressed again and again by historians and philosophers who, without denying the proper role which corresponds to memory in relation to the traumatic past – especially regarding reparation for the victims of heinous crimes -, have been warning for over a decade about its excesses and abuses and demand the autonomy of historical knowledge and its freedom in relation to memory and in relation to what in France is known as lois memorielles[25].

The names are well-known: Arno Meyer, Charles Maier, Henry Rousso, Pierra Nora and the signatories of the manifesto “Liberté pour l’histoire”, Gerard Noiriel and the members of the Comité de vigilance face aux usages publics de l’histoire, Tzvetan Todorov, Peter Novick or, finally and among many others, Tony Judt, who saw the 20th century on the way to becoming “a palace of moral memory: a historical Chamber of Horrors of use in teaching and whose stations are called “Munich” or “Pearl Harbour”, “Auschwitz” or “Gulag”, “Armenia” or “Bosnia” or “Ruanda”, with “September 11th” as a kind of excessive coda”. Tony Judt himself said in an interview: “We have to keep [past horrors alive] but as history, because if you process it as memory, you always invent a new layer of forgetting. Because you always remember something, you remember what is most comfortable for you, or what is politically more useful to you”. For that reason, he went on, “I wrote the epilogue [of Postwar], because I wanted to underline the importance of history, especially in contemporary times, when it is so easy to think that memory is sufficient[26].

None of these historians denies the importance of memory, but they all warn about the proliferation of anniversaries, commemorations, museums, sanctuaries, inscriptions, heritages, patrimony of humanity, even theme parks in a world that seems to have lost any sense of future; and they all demand a proper role for history. What role? The one that arises, as Paul Ricoeur wrote, out of the autonomy of historical knowledge which in relation to the mnemonic phenomenon constitutes “the main assumption of a coherent epistemology of history as a scientific and literary discipline”[27]. It is, all in all, the autonomy of the historian as a craftsman in his workshop.

The historian, a craftsman in his workshop

History is, as Max Weber said of science, a vocation, but it is above all a trade – a métier, as the admirable Marc Bloch called it – which consists of telling “how things really happened”[28]. Investigating and documenting acts, facts, events, institutions, processes, customs, mentalities, and even representations of the past is the first task of the historian: it is what moves us to get out of the house, out of the familiar environment, but also to leave the time we live in, in order to go into a remote, strange country in search of clues of what happened once and no longer is, in search of the past: newspaper archives, libraries, archives, the streets of the city, the countryside, museums, architecture, everything helps to walk back into the past. This is a profession for curious people, able to get outside of themselves, people who want to know things that are not offered by the experience of our everyday lives, people who want to know what happened in a time that once was, and to some people who no longer are.

There is no history if there is no passion for the past. That is the mark of our identity, which makes the difference between this and any other trade. It is not the passion for facts that a police officer feels, a judge, a politician, a legislator, who aim their investigations towards acts committed in the past in order to find the person guilty of a crime, to hand down a sentence or to make use of it to impose a belief or an account of memory with the aim of legitimizing their own actions in the present. We are not police officers, judges, politicians or legislators.

We do not go out in search of the past except to document, interpret, understand, explain, untangle skeins of meaning, represent, know what happened and tell it in the public forum. That series is not ordered by chance: they are the stages of the growth and consolidation of our art throughout the last century, stages which make up the essence of so many other theories or philosophies of history: empirical documentation in search of laws was the demand of the positivist theory; interpretation of a singular process was what, in its criticism of positivism, historicism offered; understanding the meaning the protagonists impressed on action was what comprehensive sociology added to the interpretation; establishing the foundations of an explanation was the aim of analytical philosophy when it sought the general causes of an action or a specific process; that history is representation constitutes the criticism of the linguistic twist which is finally translated into the narrative philosophy characteristic of Postmodernism.

It may appear somewhat pretentious, but the trade of historian has come out, not unscathed but enriched from the successive crises and turns that have dotted its path over the last century, from the onslaughts received from the philosophies of history created since the Enlightenment and from meetings with other arts and social sciences, from sociology to linguistics, via anthropology or economics and law. If it has achieved this, overcoming the predictions of those who announced the dissolution or end of history, it is because before and below all of them there remains, as a distinctive mark of our trade, what Yerushalmi called the austere passion for facts, the proof, the evidence. No doubt when one goes to a place that holds the marks of the past, the historian does not shake off what he is, his eyes that have already seen a lot, his tongue, the same tongue that he has used to name things, his experiences, his ideology or his view of the world, basically his present.

See also  College Admissions Essay and The Power of Influence

He is aware that the past is built in the present and he goes to his work equipped with everything that makes him a being of a specific time and place, but he goes austerely, with the only intention that the past should speak, that nothing should be lost, not to interfere with the voices that come to him from the past. When that passion is austere, when he does not serve any master, whether it be the State, Justice, Politics, the Party, his Class, National Identity, Memory, he will never stop asking questions, he will never block the ways that could lead him to results that were unexpected when he set out, perhaps impossible to fit into any predetermined theory, perhaps contrary to the image he had created for himself of the people closest to him. It is at that moment that the facts begin to impose their rule, when they spill out of the limits that the historian intended, knowingly or innocently, to impose on them.

For that reason, the austerity of his passion will force him to open his ears so he will not miss even a subtlety, a whisper from those voices that come to him from the past. The historian does not bring to his search the positivist theory, the analytical theory, the Marxist or the psycho-analytical theory or even the perfectly finished plot of the account where he will end his search, or a closed ideology, or the latest fashion expressed in the logomachy of so many cultural studies that proliferate in our times.

When he begins his work, he does not know what he is going to find and he remains open to any eventuality. Any philosophy of history should start out after the moment when the historian finds the fact, not from the account once it is finished, for the surprise of the discovery, apart from being a fundamental part of the pleasure of our profession, forces him to create the object itself of our observation, as Lucien Febvre[29] said, and therefore to modify, reinvent or enrich hypotheses, to give them greater depth, to situate what he has discovered in an unfinished context, to unravel what he has gathered together with partial data, to formulate new questions, to begin again and again in an exciting piece of work that will culminate with the transformation of the facts found, into facts created, in an account that is totally the invention of the historian. The “new” narrative philosophy of history confuses the process when, starting from the completed narrative, it infers from it the merely representational nature of the historical account, because before making any interpretation, the trade, the discipline and the vocation of the historian is investigation and creation of facts. This implies, on one hand, dissatisfaction with the replies received to the questions that are at the origin of his search; and, on the other hand, an open attitude, with no barriers, to what may surprise him or her during the course of the investigation.

It is clear that investigation is only the beginning, that it will be necessary to elaborate on what is found so that it can speak out, and therefore in a certain sense we reconstruct the past: that a historian writes is something that was known long before Frank Ankersmit published his thesis on the narrativist philosophy of history. But what the exercise of this profession teaches is that not all writing is possible, and neither is all representation adequate; for, as Perry Anderson and Carlo Ginzburg said to Hayden Waite, representation has limits outside of it, which come from the evidence itself and which impose a plot: no one could represent the “final solution” as a romance or a comedy[30].

What the historian offers, wrote Natalie Zemon Davis in the prologue to The return of Martin Guerre is in part his or her invention, my invention, but – she added immediately – held tightly in check by the voices of the past, said like that, because the Spanish edition of this beautiful book completely spoils the force of the expression when it is translated as: “what I offer here is, in part, an invention, but an invention channeled after closely listening to the past”[31]. No, it is not just any invention, but his or her invention – my invention – which is not channeled after listening to the past, but is controlled firmly, severely, by the voices from the past. The subject who controls is the very voice of the past, endowed with a life of its own; the one who listens will be the historian, whose invention cannot, must not, be controlled by his own listening, by his hearing, but by the voice that comes to him. The reality, writes Funkenstein, is in one sense that which escapes our control, in another that which we construct: only because the historian recognizes the constrictions of reality will he be able to work with it, to build it as he writes it[32].

There lies a good part of the substance and the grandeur of our trade: not that it is half facts and half invention, as François Furet replied (and Jacques Le Goff agreed with him), to a question from Alain Finkielkraut[33]. It is not a matter of percentages or dividing lines: up to here, investigation, empiricism, from there on, invention, narration. The account in which the product of our trade is presented is, as we have already said, an invention: in order for nothing of our human work to be lost, the invention has to be carried out everywhere, Febvre also wrote. It is, although in a different way, just like a novel or a film: there is no way of representing that is not an invention of the subject who builds it using the elements of the plot, writing.

But that invention, in order to be historical, has to feel firmly constrained or controlled at every step by the events investigated and documented, that is to say, by reality, by the noise the old tree makes when it falls, even if there is no one there to hear it. This constriction or control refers both to the methods of plotting and to the methods of debating, as well as to the methods of ideological implication or, in the end, to the figures or tropes of rhetoric, whether they be four[34] or forty. There is no history if we do not start out from the fact that there is a reality out there, beyond the text which reaches us when we start listening to the voices of the past and which imposes a constriction on our freedom as interpreters.

Because of all this, the work of the historian is like that of a master craftsman who every morning comes out of his workshop, out of his normal world, moved by an austere passion for the events of the past and with his eyes and ears wide open in order not to miss anything, any voice, with the aim of finding fragments, remains, clues belonging to that strange world. He does not feel in any hurry, there is no great urgency: for days, weeks, months, years, his task consists of gathering all that material, taking it to his workshop, treating it with care so that it does not break nor does it lose what it carries inside, its meaning, its sense; selecting it once, twice even three times, putting it in order and changing the order it is in, setting it out in such a way that at some point, which he awaits anxiously, once it has settled inside him, it will offer him the subject already made up to tell a story in which all the material finds, over and above the meaning transmitted and perceived, the new meaning which only he can build. He does not get his hopes up too much, in fact not at all, regarding the objectivity and the truth of that story for he knows, better than any narrative philosopher, that the story is his, and that in this sense it is true and is ready to be presented to other craftsmen and to the public with the purpose of feeding the debates about the past with which societies, when they are constructed on democratic bases, when they are free of imposed memories, shape and fill their historical awareness with content.

The master craftsman has his workshop of course; in it he cares for his tools, among them, the works that lit up some part of the journey and to which he returns from time to time, to Michelet and his History of the French Revolution, to Marx and his 18 Brumaire, Weber and his Protestant Ethics, Bloch and his Feudal Society, Thompson and his Making of the English working class, to so many others. And with them the enlightenment that comes to him from philosophies and theories of history which inspire him in the composition of his account. He does not feel a prisoner of any paradigm or forced to follow the direction imposed by the latest trend: in search of the events and voices of the past the craftsman goes out travelling light. Instead of a theory, he prefers different theoretical resources, according to what the events and the plot call for, which, furthermore, also require varying methodological and rhetorical resources.

He knows what others, philosophers, writers, cultural critics, write about his trade and he has paid attention to hermeneutics, analytical philosophy, sociology, anthropology, culture, memory and he turns to them in order to polish his work. But his work is his own creation, not the illustration of another person’s theory and into it he pours everything he is because he is, after all, the master craftsman who knows that he has no life other than the life he has been able to inspire in those fragments, remains, signs of the past until he changed them into accounts destined to feed the public debate in the present.

[This article reproduces parts of a lecture given at the 10th Congress of the Association of Contemporary History with the title “Praise of History in times of Memory”.]

[1] Reyes Mate, La herencia del olvido (The inheritance of forgetting), Madrid, Errata Naturae, 2009, p. 149.

[2] Tzvetan Todorov, who quotes Jean Claude Guillebaud, Los abusos de la memoria (The abuses of memory), Madrid, Taurus 2000, p. 49. Raphael Samuel, Theatres of memory, London, Verso, 1994, p. 139.

[3] Astrid Erll, “Cultural memory studies: An introduction”, in Astrid Erll and Ansgar Nünning, eds., A companion to cultural memory studies, Berlin/New York, De Gruyter, 2010, pp. 7 and 9.

[4] Peter Novick, The Holocaust in American life, London, Bloomsbury, 2001, pp. 209-213. According to Shlomo Sand, the film history of the Holocaust is divided into a before and an after the broadcasting of this series: El siglo XX en pantalla (The 20th century on screen), Barcelona, Crítica, 2004, p. 339.

[5] Quoted by Juan José Carreras, “Why do we talk about memory when we mean history?”, in C. Forcadell and A. Sabio, eds., Las escalas del pasado. IV Congreso de historia local de Aragón, (The stages of the past. 4th Congress of local Aragonese history), Barbastro, IEA-UNED, 2005, pp. 20-21.

[6] Elisabeth Jelin, Los trabajos de la memoria (Memory jobs), Madrid, Siglo XXI, 2002, p. 49.

[7] Novick, The Holocaust, p. 19. Shlomo Ben Ami, “Remembrance of the Holocaust in the configuration of Israeli national identity”, Pasajes, I, 1999, pp. 7-8.

[8] Novick, The Holocaust, p. 275, also for Primo Levi’s reflection on the value of survivors’ accounts.

[9] Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, “Postscript: Reflections on forgetting”, in Zakhor. Jewish history and Jewish memory, Seattle, University of Washington Press, 1996, pp. 116-117.

[10] Sand shows his respect for Lanzmann’s work, but reproaches him for having reinvented the past in order to gain a monopoly on his new vision, based on Polish places and testimony, “rather than contributing to a better understanding of the events”, El siglo XX en pantalla (The 20th century on screen), pp. 346-347.

[11] Juan José Carreras, “¿Por qué hablamos de memoria cuando queremos decir historia?” (Why do we speak of memory when we mean history?), p. 24.

[12] Paul Ricoeur, “Mémoire, Histoire, Oubli”, Esprit, 323 (March-April 2006) pp. 20-21.

[13] Santos Juliá, “The return of the past to parliamentary debate”, Alcores. Revista de Historia Contemporánea, 7 (Alcores. Review of Contemporary History) (2009), pp. 231-256).

[14] This is what I defend in “Federico García Lorca. Muerte y memoria” (Federico García Lorca. Death and remembrance), Claves de razón práctica, 200 (Jan-Feb. 2010), pp. 56-60.

[15] Julio de Jáuregui, “La amnistía y la violencia” (Amnesty and violence), El País, 18th May, 1977.

[16] Number 5 Central Magistrates Court. Audiencia Nacional. Preliminary hearings. Abbreviated Prosecution 399/12006V, Warrant of 16th October, 2008.

[17] Amparo Valcárce and Jesús Caldera presented a “Bill relative to the annulment of the summary trials of the Franco dictatorship”, Boletín Oficial de las Cortes Generales, Congreso de Diputados, series D, number 580, 8th September 2003, pp. 39-40. Once the PSOE came to power, this bill was never heard of again.

[18] Law 13/2007, of 31st October, of Democratic Memorial, approved by the Parliament of Catalonia, Boletín Oficial del Estado, 284, 27th November, 2007, p. 48,487.

[19] I quoted this in “Los nombres de la guerra” (The names of war), Hoy no es ayer. Ensayos sobre la España del siglo XX (Today is not yesterday. Essays on 20th century Spain), Barcelona, RBA, 2010, p. 101.

[20] Marc Bloch, Introducción a la historia (Introduction to history), p. 110.

[21] Manuel Azaña to Luis Fernández Clérigo, July 3rd, 1939, in Manuel Azaña, Obras Completas (Complete Works), ed. de Santos Juliá, Madrid, CEPC, 2007, vol. 6, p. 683.

[22] Santos Juliá, “Echar al olvido: memoria y amnistía en la transición” (Consigning to oblivion: memory and amnesty in the transition), Claves de razón práctica, (Keys for practical reason), 129 (January-February 2003) 14-24. Stefano Rodotà. La vida y las reglas. Entre el derecho y el no derecho (Life and rules. Between right and non-right), Madrid, Trotta y Fundación Alfonso Martín Escudero, 2010, pp. 81 and 83.

[23] I do not understand how this “tremendous rise” in 1975 and the “enormous importance” that the war still had in 1991 was compatible with the “loss of memory” that apparently affected Spanish society during the same period: all three expressions are from Walter Bernecker, “De la diferencia a la indiferencia. La sociedad española y la guerra civil (1936/39 – 1986/89)” (From difference to indifference. Spanish society and the Civil War) in F. López Casero, W. Bernecker and P. Waldmann, comps., El precio de la modernización (The price of modernization), Frankfurt/Main, Vervuert Verlag, 1994.

[24] That memory might be the muse or matrix of history went unnoticed in all the talks given at the Cornell Congress in 1980, in which it is useless to seek any reference to memory: Dominick LaCapra and Steven L. Kaplan, eds., Modern European intellectual history. Reappraisals and new perspectives, Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press, 1982. For the “turn to memory” and its reasons Dominick LaCapra, History and memory after Auschwitz, Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press, 1988, pp. 8-12.

[25] Some of the positions held in this debate appear in Anna Rossi-Doria, “Il conflitto tra memoria e storia. Appunti”, in Saul Meghnagi, ed., Memoria della Shoah. Dopo “i testimoni”, Rome, Donzelli, 2007, pp. 59-70.

[26] The first quote from Tony Judt, Sobre el olvidado siglo XX (On the forgotten 20th century), Madrid, Taurus, 2008, p. 15; the second, an interview with José Manuel Calvo, in El País, 18th June, 2006.

[27] Paul Ricoeur, La mémoire, l’histoire, l’oubli, Paris, Seuil, 2000, pp. 504 and 168-169.

[28] I say this with Ranke’s well-known expression, of whom “it is wrong to suppose makes a positivist profession of faith out of it”, as José Carreras observes in one of his great Seis lecciones sobre historia (Six lessons on history), p. 38.

[29] Lucien Febvre, “De 1892 a 1933. Examen de conciencia de una historia y de un historiador” (From 1892 to 1933. Examination of conscience of an account and of a historian), in Combates por la historia (Struggles for history), Barcelona, Ariel, 1970, p. 21.

[30] From Perry Anderson, “On Emplotment: two kinds of ruin”; from Carlo Ginzburg, “Just one witness”, both in Saul Friedlander, ed., Probing the limits of representation, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, pp. 54-65 and 82-96.

[31] Natalie Z. Davis, El regreso de Martin Guerre, Barcelona, Antoni Bosch, 1984, p. 5, or in English, The return of Martin Guerre, Cambridge, Ms., Harvard University Press, 1983.

[32] Amos Funkenstein, “History, Counterhistory and Narrative”, in Friedlander, Probing the limits, pp. 68-69.

[33] “Michelet, la France et les historiens. Entretien avec François Furet et Jacques Le Goff” in Alain Finkielkraut, dir., Qu’est-ce que la France, Paris, Gallimard, 2007, p. 244.

[34] I am referring to the famous and suggestive study by Hayden White, Metahistoria. La imaginación histórica en la Europa del siglo XIX (Metahistory. Historical imagination in 19th century Europe) [1973], Mexico, Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1992, which in its “Introduction: The poetics of history”, pp. 13-50, established four methods of plotting, another four for debating and four more for ideological implication, apart from four rhetorical figures of speech.

Cite this page

Choose cite format:
In Support of the Autonomy of History. (2021, Mar 29). Retrieved March 24, 2023, from