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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 July 2013


Why are humans fated to remember and forget? For Plato, it is because we are wounded by our memory of a previous existence, namely the Platonic “realm of ideas,” to which we forever long to return. In the social sciences, especially history and anthropology, burgeoning cross-disciplinary methodologies and approaches have emerged to study the ways in which humanity remembers and forgets; “cultural memory studies” and the “anthropology of memory” constitute a contemporary realm of ideas concerned with discursive contestations over memory and history. The books under review here, all of which relate to the study of collective memory in Lebanon or Israel/Palestine, have recourse to French theories, despite time lags due to delayed English translation. Foundational writers of a field loosely grouped under the rubric “memory studies” include French sociologist Maurice Halbwachs, whose Les cadres sociaux de la mémoire (1925) and posthumously published La mémoire collective (1950) both appeared in English in 1980, under confusingly similar titles. The English-language publication of Halbwachs’ corpus on the individual in relation to “collective memory” coincidentally corresponded with the American Psychiatric Association's 1980 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Third Edition, in which categories of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) extended collective memory into collective traumatic memory, through the notion that “Post-traumatic disorder is fundamentally a disorder of memory.” Another seminal thinker in this field is Pierre Nora, especially the multivolume, multiauthored essays produced under his direction entitled Les Lieux de mémoire, which appeared in French between 1984 and 1992.

Review Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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1 For reviews of anthropological and historical literatures of memory, see Deeb, Lara and Winegar, Jessica, “Anthropologies of Arab-Majority Societies,” Annual Review of Anthropology 41 (2012): 537–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Climo, Jacob J. and Cattell, Maria G., “Introduction: Meaning in Social Memory and History, Anthropological Perspectives,” in Social Memory and History: Anthropological Approaches, ed. Climo and Cattell (Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press, 2002), 138Google Scholar; and Olick, Jeffrey and Robbins, Joyce, “Social Memory Studies: From ‘Collective Memory’ to the Historical Sociology of Mnemonic Practices,” Annual Review of Sociology 24 (1998): 105–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 Maurice Halbwachs, Les cadres sociaux de la mémoire was originally published in 1925 and reissued posthumously in 1952; for the English translation, see On Collective Memory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992); Halbwachs, , The Collective Memory (New York: Harper & Row, 1980)Google Scholar was translated from La mémoire collective (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1950).

3 The quote is from Leys, Ruth, Trauma: A Genealogy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 2CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 3rd ed. (Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association, 1980)Google Scholar; and the critique of traumatic memory by Young, Alan, The Harmony of Illusions: Inventing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995), 129Google Scholar.

4 Les Lieux de mémoire, 7 vols., under the direction of Pierre Nora (Paris: Gallimard, 1984–1992). In English translation: Realms of Memory: Rethinking the French Past, 3 vols, under the direction of Pierre Nora (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996). A translated excerpt published in 1989 in the American journal Representations remains influential; see Nora, Pierre, “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de mémoire,” Representations 26 (1989): 725CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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6 On countermemory and Palestine, see Abu-Lughod, Lila and Sa'di, Ahmed H., “Introduction: The Claims of Memory,” in Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory, ed. Sa'di, Ahmed H. and Abu-Lughod, Lila (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 124Google Scholar.

7 Plato, “Phaedrus,” in The Collected Dialogues of Plato, ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns (New York: Pantheon, 1966), 520.

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10 See, for example, Pappé, Ilan, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oxford: Oneworld, 2006)Google Scholar; and Blazina, Vesna, “Mémoricide ou la purification culturelle: la guerre contre les bibliothèques de Croatie et de Bosnie-Herzégovine,” Documentation et bibliothèques 42, no. 4 (1996): 149–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

11 For a survey and discussion of the term “dissonant heritage,” see Tunbridge, J. E. and Ashworth, G. J., Dissonant Heritage: The Management of the Past as a Resource in Conflict (New York: Wiley, 1996)Google Scholar. Pioneering works on “difficult heritage” at sites of memory such as museums and monuments owe much to debates around representing the Holocaust. See Huyssen, Andreas, Twilight Memories: Marking Time in a Culture of Amnesia (New York: Routledge, 1995)Google Scholar and Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2003).

12 Doumani, Beshara, ed., Family History in the Middle East: Household, Property, and Gender (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 2003)Google Scholar.

13 Antze, Paul and Lambek, Michael, eds., Tense Past: Cultural Essays on Trauma and Memory (New York: Routledge, 1996)Google Scholar.

14 James Gelvin, “Collective Memory and Nationalist Narrative: Recounting the Syrian Experience of the First World War,” unpublished article. See also the 2011 MESA presidential address of Joseph, Suad, “History and Its Histories: Story-Making and the Present,” Review of Middle East Studies 46 (2012): 623CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and the special issue “Introduction: Mourning and Memory,” including articles by Saunders, Rebecca and Aghaie, Kamran, in Comparative Studies in South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 25 (2005): 1629Google Scholar.

15 An influential earlier work in Jewish Studies is Yerushalmi, Yosef Hayim, Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory (Seattle, Wash.: University of Washington Press, 1982)Google Scholar. Architecturally informed memory studies of former Jewish communities in Muslim-majority countries include Bahloul, Joelle, La maison de mémoire: ethnologie d'une demeure judéo- arabe en Algérie, 1937–1961 (Paris: Editions Métailié, 1992)Google Scholar, translated into English as The Architecture of Memory: A Jewish-Muslim Household in Colonial Algeria, 1937–1962 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996); and Miller, Susan Gilson and Bertagnin, Mauro, eds., The Architecture and Memory of the Minority Quarter in the Muslim Mediterranean City (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2010)Google Scholar.

16 Some recent examples are Haugbolle, Sune, War and Memory in Lebanon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Kanafani-Zahar, Aïda, Liban: La guerre et la mémoire (Rennes, France: Presse universitaire de Rennes, 2011)Google Scholar; and Volk, Lucia, Memorials and Martyrs in Modern Lebanon (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2010)Google Scholar.

17 Diefendorf, Jeffry M., In the Wake of War: The Reconstruction of German Cities after World War II (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993)Google Scholar; for an urban case study, see Rosenfeld, Gavriel David, Munich and Memory: Architecture, Monuments, and the Legacy of the Third Reich (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2000)Google Scholar.

18 Hirsch, Marianne, Family Frames: Photography, Narrative and Postmemory (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997), 22Google Scholar.

19 See the overview by Ellis, Carolyn and Bochner, Arthur P., “Autoethnography, Personal Narrative, Reflexivity: Researcher as Subject,” in Handbook of Qualitative Research, ed. Denzin, Norman and Lincoln, Yvonne S. (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 2000), 733–68Google Scholar.

20 Ricoeur, Paul, Memory, History, Forgetting (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 474CrossRefGoogle Scholar et passim, which is the English translation of his Mémoire, l'histoire, l'oubli (Paris: Le Seuil, 2000).

21 According to one study, 63 percent of American respondents believe that human memory resembles a video camera that records information accurately for later review and half believe that experiences once encoded in memory are memories that do not change. See Simons, Daniel and Chabris, Christopher, “What People Believe about How Memory Works: A Representative Survey of the U.S. Population,” PLoS ONE 6 (2011)CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed,

22 Larkin, Craig, “Beyond the War: The Lebanese Postmemory Experience,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 42 (2010): 615–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

23 Furani, Khaled and Rabinowitz, Dan, “The Ethnographic Arriving of Palestine,” Annual Review of Anthropology 40 (2011): 475–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

24 Weiss, Yfaat, “Conflicting Memories, Unrestituted: Wadi Salib as an Israeli Political Metaphor,” in Restitution and Memory: Material Restoration in Europe, ed. Diner, Dan and Wunberg, Gotthart (New York: Bergahn Books, 2007), 315Google Scholar.

25 See Rotberg, Robert I., ed., Israeli and Palestinian Narratives of Conflict: History's Double Helix (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2006)Google Scholar.

26 Said, Edward, “Bursts of Meaning,” Reflections on Exile and Other Essays (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000), 152Google Scholar.

27 Slyomovics, Susan, The Object of Memory: Arab and Jew Narrate the Palestinian Village (Philadelphia, Pa.: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998)Google Scholar.

28 Scott, James C., Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1985)Google Scholar. For a critique of Morris's views on oral interviews, see Slyomovics, Susan, “The Rape of Qula, a Destroyed Palestinian Village,” in Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory, ed. Sa'di, Ahmad and Abu-Lughod, Lila (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 2751Google Scholar.

29 Swedenburg, Ted, “Popular Memory and the Palestinian National Past,” in Golden Ages, Dark Ages: Imagining the Past in History and Anthropology, ed. O'Brien, Jay and Roseberry, William (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1991), 152–79Google Scholar. For selected overviews of Palestinian oral history, see Gluck, Sherna Berger, “Oral History and Al-Nakbah,” The Oral History Review 35 (2008): 6880CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Gluck, Sherna Berger, “New Directions in Palestinian Oral History,” Oral History Review 39 (2012): 100111CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Sayigh, Rosemary, “The Significance of Oral Narratives and Life Histories,” in Al-Jana: The Harvest: File on Palestinian Oral History, ed. Sayigh, Rosemary (Beirut: Arab Resource Center for Popular Arts, 2002), 2427Google Scholar; and Masalha, Nur, “Remembering the Palestinian Nakba: Commemoration, Oral History and Narratives of Memory,” Holy Land Studies 7 (2008): 123–56Google Scholar.

30 On the “Palestine Remembered Oral History Project,” see; articles by Fawwaz Salameh at; and Salah Mansour, “Lessons Learned from's Oral History Experience,”'-learned-from-palestinerememberedcom's-oral-history-experience. On the “Nakba Archive,” codirected by Diana Allan and Mahmoud Zaidan, see (all accessed 5 January 2013).

31 Charlotte Silver, “An Interview with Eyal Sivan: Against Forgetting,” Al-Jazeera, available at (accessed 6 January 2013).

32 See my review of the first six volumes of the “Destroyed Palestinian Village” Series, in Journal of American Folklore 104 (1991): 385–87.

33 See my comparative studies of Palestinian “memorial books”: Slyomovics, Susan, “The Memory of Place: Rebuilding the Pre-1948 Palestinian Village,” Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies 3 (1994): 157–68CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and idem, The Object of Memory, chap. 1.