Culture & History Digital Journal, Vol 4, No 2 (2015)

Cultural heritage and memory: untangling the ties that bind

Dacia Viejo-Rose
Department of Archaeology and Anthropology & McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom


Today in heritage studies memory looms larger than ever, there are memory parks, memory politics, and memory wars, there is discussion of ‘dissonant’, ‘dark’, and ‘difficult’ heritage linked to memories of traumatic past events. But what to we mean when we use the word ‘memory’ in the field of heritage? How is the divide between its social and individual realms bridged? This article theorizes the intimate relationship between heritage and memory by focusing on three areas. First, it maps out the vocabulary that has emerged from the heritage-memory dyad including how notions of collective memory and lieux de mémoire have been used, and occasionally misused, as well as the metaphors employed in the process. Second, the emergence of memory studies is considered, providing a brief overview of its foundations as well as assessing how it differs from, overlaps with, and contributes to heritage research. A third section offers a brief review of recent developments in cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and evolutionary biology relating to memory and how this might inform heritage studies. The concluding discussion provides a synthesis of the theoretical and empirical contribution of memory research to furthering out understanding of cultural heritage and proposes directions for future work on the area of confluence between the two.


Cultural heritage; memory; cultural memory; neuroscience; memes; lieux de mémoire; cognitive psychology

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