The syllabus says:
“Students are also required to supplement this study with texts of their own choosing which provide a variety of representations of that event, personality or situation.”
“Students explore the ways in which different media present information and ideas to understand how various textual forms and their media of production offer different versions and perspectives for a range of audiences and purposes.”
“students consider their prescribed text and other texts which explore the relationships between individual memory and documented events”
The ‘ big idea’ in Module C is understanding the ‘constructed-ness’ of ‘reality’, recognizing that meaning is shaped not only by the content and what we understand of that, but also by how we receive the content. In the History and Memory elective we look for related material that tells us something else about the idea of history and the idea of memory and compare this to the ideas offered by the set text. This comparison enables us to make generalizations about the relationship between individual memory and documented events.
I’m going to try to explain history and memory as different kinds of stories. My explanations are not definitive, of course, just my response to the questions What is history? and What is memory? at this moment in time. I want to frame what I say next rather than get bogged down in a debate about my definitions.
History is a particular kind of collective story that we tell ourselves to help us understand the past and to navigate the future. Memories are a different kind of story. These stories are personal, fragmented, revised through time, told to ourselves and others so that we don’t forget who we are.
In class we viewed a Youtube clip by a spoken word poet Phil Kaye: Why we tell stories. (Thanks Eli! Great choice)
Phil Kaye begins his TED talk with a poem “Repetition”. I thought it was really apt as a way into our discussions of history and memory. The poem explores the influence of repetition on removing the power of language and I thought about how I had avoided the Holocaust for most of my adult life. After ‘The Diary of Ann Frank” and Modern History in Year 12, I could not bear to revisit such sorrow and suffering, or be reminded of man’s inhumanity to man. There was enough around in the intervening years anyway. I think Baker’s The Fiftieth Gate avoids the problem of repetition. He doesn’t repeat what we already know. In fact, the book expects us to know what the Holocaust is and for that reason many study guides provide masses of information about the holocaust, perhaps recognizing that school students are less well informed about these documented events. Baker reminds us that simply repeating documented events does not make them ‘real’, nor does it engage us in remembering with empathy or allow us to make sense of what was, in a world that has moved on from that time.
Phil Kaye’s thesis on ‘why we tell stories’ is that we are all trying to make sense of what it means to be alive and how he has struggled to understand why we tell stories. He concludes that “In the face of this great unknowingness of our future, I think we tell stories to make a context for our past”. He uses the analogy of a map and that our stories are our landmarks on the maps of our lives.
Phil Kaye is an American. A Japanese – Jewish American. He ends his talk with a poem about his grandfather. He eloquently expresses the impact of the events of WWII on both his grandfathers and ultimately on himself, as the heir to both these histories.
In my next post, I will consider the poem using Mrs Langford’s questions as a possible piece of related material.