Collective Memory as Social Fact

This week we discussed the concept of collective memory as developed by sociologist Maurice Halbwachs (1877-1945). Inspired by sociologist Emile Durkheim and philosopher Henri Bergson, Halbwachs offered us two important ideas. First, societies or social groups (such as family, religion, and class), have shared memories that, like Durkheim's social facts, are greater than any single individual, and are passed down through generations. Second, Halbwachs offered the challenging idea that collective memories form the basis of much of what we mistakenly think of as individual memory. We also looked at one of Halbwach's critics, the Annales historian, Marc Bloch (1886-1944) who challenged Halbwachs critique of individual memory.  

Mandela Effect

The Mandela Effect is essentially shared false memories. It was named for the memory several people have of Nelson Mandela’s death in prison in the 1980’s when in fact, he died in 2013. There are several examples of these false shared memories, but two additional ones include the movie Risky Business, in which people remember Tom Cruise sings in his socks, underwear, a dress shirt and sunglasses. In reality, he does not wear sunglasses. In the Disney movie, Snow White, the evil stepmother is remembered as saying “Mirror, mirror on the wall...” when in fact she says, “Magic mirror on the wall…” What strikes people with false memories is the certainty they have in their memory; they are sure their memory is true. Moreover, their memory is shared by several people, ranging from close connections to disparate strangers. Bloch who, in relaying the work of Halbwachs, says, “…to remember is to reconstruct the past, [something that is] possible because the individual mind has recourse to the group mind.” The Mandela Effect seems to have its roots in this group mind, because its essence is that it is a collective or shared memory and is made remarkable because it is a false memory. It is unnerving, because one must wonder how much of our personal and shared histories include these false memories? (contributed by TA)

Grandfather and Grandson


Maurice Halbwachs develops the concept of what we know as Collective Memory. We learn through the reading that this is heavily influenced by social groups, which more importantly includes domains such as family, religion and political forces.

One notable takeaway from this week’s reading was specifically around my own familial memory and experiences. The photo attached to this archive demonstrates my late grandfather and my brother during a moment where my siblings and I had gotten together at my grandparents place. I remember this specific time as it was a few months before he had passed away as well as the fact that he was telling a story about his journey to Canada on a boat to escape Vietnam during the war.

I had chosen this photo as it represented the themes of historical and familial memory that Halbwachs touched upon. As stated on page 141, “These remembrances that seem purely personal, since we alone are aware of and capable of retrieving them, are distinguished by the greater complexity of the conditions necessary for their recall.” (Olick at al, 2011). I believe this is fitting as my family all experienced individual memories and experiences during such traumatic times of the Vietnam war. It also extends further as their recollection is part of an even larger recollection of this historical event as a whole that has been passed down to generations through not only the use of storytelling but through other sources as well (contributed by SM). 

In the pool

A photograph of a Mother and her children at Oliver Pool

Pools are a big part of my life, and so was my Grandad, Jack Warnock, a WW2 veteran and pilot, who took this photo. As a disabled person, pools are a way for me to exercise, relax, socialize, gain skills and certifications, all while experiencing my environment unencumbered by physical limitations. As a child with epilepsy, I experienced tonic-clonic and absence seizures. While I no longer have seizure activity, memory remains a challenge. Today, I rely on others and technology to remind me of my responsibilities, details, deadlines and experiences.

I remembered my Grandad taking this photo, but I wanted to confirm this with other sources. I believe that it was taken at Queen Elizabeth Pool. Mum remembered it as Oliver Pool. I went to the City of Edmonton archives website to see if I could verify the colours, benches, and slides of the photo. Mum was right. It was Oliver Pool. There were only four photos of Oliver pool, all dated circa 1980. I verified the pool by positioning benches and slides from two photos taken from a different angle than Grandad's photo. One of my sisters confirmed this by text.

As a WW2 veteran, his mobility was limited by an injury he obtained from the plane's fuselage. He had to exit after being shot at by Axis fighter pilots. He understood what it felt to be trapped in your body. He didn't always feel like that, but he did have flareups where he needed a cane. I think he understood how I felt. Knowing what it was like to move through the world with varying degrees of mobility and ability as he aged. At that young age, he always emphasized not focusing on the challenges I experienced but challenging myself to see what I could accomplish despite my disabilities.

Halbwachs said, "The greatest part of its memory spans time during which nothing has radically changed. Thus events happening within a family or its members would be stressed in a written history of the family. However, they would have meaning for the kin group only by providing clear proof of its own almost unaltered character, distinctive from all other families. Were a conflicting event, the initiative of one or several members, or, finally, external circumstances to introduce into the life of the group a new element incompatible with its past, then another group, with its own memory, would arise, and only an incomplete and vague remembrance of what had preceded this crisis would remain." (Halbwachs quoted in Olick et al, 2011:146-147) To this, I say, I remember, and so did they. RIP Grandaddy. (contributed by KC).

Fun in the Rain

In this weeks reading Halbwachs' essay mentions " While these remembrances are mutually supportive of each other and common to all, individual members still vary in the intensity with which they experience them. {...} [e]ach memory is a viewpoint on the collective memory, that this viewpoint changes as my position changes, that this position itself changes as my relationship to other milieus change." (Olick et al, 2011:142)

This digital painting I drew is based on an image taken by my parents on our trip to India in 2011, it shows me and my cousin playing in the rain while there was a literal flood happening. During this period it rained. non stop for days to the point where there was a flood in the neighbourhood. Water was almost up the porch and close to entering the house. We were lucky to see crabs crawling in our front porch, and medium sized fish swimming in our front yard. We even gave one shelter for a few days before it left on its own. The day this picture was taken me and my cousin got permission to shower in the rain (it was raining hard) we took a few pictures on in the front yard before walking onto the field in front of our house, the water was up to almost out hips. in the distance we saw young boys with fishing nets trying to catch fish, and few other children catching frogs and snakes. Me and my cousin had a blast struggle with your plastic flip flops in the muddy felid while we walked around in deep water.

The reason I connect this quote with this memory because my environment or milieus has changed therefor changing my position, and viewpoint of this memory. When it happen I didn't really think about what was happening around me, it was a new experience and I enjoyed every bit of it. When I came back to Edmonton (change is environment and people in it) I realized that perhaps I won't get to experience something like that. 1. it doesn't even rain like that here in Edmonton (neither will I ever see crabs or fish in my front yard) 2. even if I do go back to India, the neighbourhood has changed drastically so floods like that can be avoided, and 3. the field me and my cousin were playing on is now housing property. I have better appreciation for this memory and since me and my cousin are a lot older we still talk about how we played in the rain and how much fun that was.