One of those magnificent German words which can’t quite be translated into English is Erinnerungsarbeit. It describes the effort that goes into remembering, into giving the past its due and making sure that important lessons are not forgotten. As you might imagine, there are some good reasons for such a word to exist in Germany.
But I believe that remembering, and making space for memories, deserves some effort even if the past in question is neither monstrous nor momentous. We all need individual and collective memories to define who we are and how we relate to the world around us.
For me, remembering the past is literally work. As a university lecturer in Ancient History, I do research in libraries and on ancient sites to understand more about the ancient Greeks, and I try my best to teach my students how to find out more for themselves – memories of ancient times for another generation.
But this blog isn’t just about the ancient world: memories and perceptions are constantly shaped around us. The newspapers or news websites reporting ‘the Prime Minister will say in his speech later today’ reflect efforts to shape memories of an event before it has even taken place.
I intend to move freely from the ancient world to that near future about to be remembered. I’ll interpret the title of this blog in the widest sense – but I am determined to work those memories to make them more transparent, and to make them work a little harder before they take us in…
I like your point about “newspapers or news websites reporting ‘the Prime Minister will say in his speech later today’ reflect efforts to shape memories of an event before it has even taken place.” My (least) favourite in that genre of things is “later today the family will host an emotional press conference”. Bad enough that stoic dignity is apparently no longer an option but acually thus pressuring people in the midst of personal tragedy to behave in a prescribed way is horrendous. But I digress.