We form individual memories by a process known as consolidation: the conversion of immediate and fleeting bits of information into a stable and accessible representation of facts and events. These memories provide a version of the past that helps us navigate the present and is critical to individual identity. In this book, Thomas Anastasio, Kristen Ann Ehrenberger, Patrick Watson, and Wenyi Zhang propose that social groups form collective memories by analogous processes. Using facts and insights from neuroscience, psychology, anthropology, and history, they describe a single process of consolidation with analogous--not merely comparable--manifestations on any level, whether brain, family, or society. They propose a three-in-one model of memory consolidation, composed of a buffer, a relator, and a generalizer, all within the consolidating entity, that can explain memory consolidation phenomena on individual and collective levels.
When consolidation is disrupted by traumatic injury to a brain structure known as the hippocampus, memories in the process of being consolidated are lost. In individuals, this is known as retrograde amnesia. The authors hypothesize a “social hippocampus” and argue that disruption at the collective level can result in collective retrograde amnesia. They offer the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) as an example of trauma to the social hippocampus and present evidence for the loss of recent collective memory in mainland Chinese populations that experienced the Cultural Revolution.
About the Authors
Thomas J. Anastasio is Associate Professor in the Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology and member of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Kristen Ann Ehrenberger is an M.D./Ph.D. candidate in History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Patrick Watson is a Ph.D. candidate in Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Wenyi Zhang is a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
"This book offers an interdisciplinary insight, suggesting the rules of memory consolidation discovered in neuroscience can be fruitfully applied to understand the evolution of collective memory in societies. The authors do a marvelous job of this; as a neuroscientist, I found my views about the neurobiology of memory challenged. I expect this synthesis will, conversely, inspire social scientists to re-think their views on collective memory."
Howard Eichenbaum, Director, Center for Memory and Brain, Boston University
"How do memories form? Readers of Individual and Collective Memory Consolidation are treated to a deep and probing journey into this important topic. The authors uncover surprising similarities between the formation of individual memories and the formation of collective memories that form in families, nations, and other groups."
Elizabeth F. Loftus, Distinguished Professor, University of California-Irvine; Former President, Association for Psychological Science
"Individual and Collective Memory Consolidation offers a new synthesis of memory research, integrating theories within fields and building bridges between disciplines. Altogether the authors paint a compelling new picture of the ways in which experience gradually gives rise to knowledge, meaning, and construal, for each of us as individuals and for all of the groups we form."
James L. McClelland, Lucie Stern Professor and Director, Center for Mind, Brain, and Computation, Stanford University