This is just some homework that I did for my Local History Class, but I really liked the information I needed to get together for it and thought it was useful!
What is the Importance of Memory in History?:
Memory is so important to us as conscious beings for so many of the things we do in life as well as for developing an accurate or inaccurate impression of historical events. In our daily lives, we make decisions based on our past experiences- what to cook, read, and even the classes we picked to take this semester in school are based on our past experiences and what memories we have – “I have managed to complete four courses with my family situation with decent grades, I needed certain courses... which ones could I pick that I would like and find fun.... and here I am.”
Memory when recording history is important because it gives history a flow and an emotional meaning and knowledge that you just can not get from most basic historical documents. A piece of paper placed on the President's desk stating that unemployment rates are over fifty percent (like the Great Depression) will express facts- it is up to your brain to attempt to figure out what the facts mean...emotionally, physically, etc... Interviewing the people who lived through the Great Depression, how they managed to survive and what life was like to live in that time gives you a real picture of that time. The little things that the macro- documents might not think to tell you. /An example of that would be a story that my best friend told me. She was in her early teens during the Great Depression living on a farm in Maine. If someone came to the door and asked for food, her parents would give it to them no questions asked. One day when Sarah was alone a man came and tried to break into the house. He threatened her and her dog had to chase the man away. People didn't come to the door for food after that and she found out later that a pole by the road near their home had been marked with a special mark that warned people not to go there as they weren't friendly. She always felt bad about that because they were willing to give away food- that guy had just gone too far. The idea that 'tramps' or other transients marked the poles is something I would never have thought to look for and most documentation about the GD would not have listed it/
What are the Drawbacks of Memory?
That said, memory can also be a hindrance to the historian... or should be taken with a grain of salt without other corroborating evidence. Memory is faulty and is based upon our perceptions, biases viewpoints and even our biology. Unlike the Harry Potter books, memory is rarely so detailed and specific unless there was a large stressor involved... and the stressor itself is bound to change our perceptions of what is happening. Some things that can change memory are embarrassment, time lapsed between the events, emotional undercurrents, lack of understanding due to poor communication, age etc... So memory can help fill in gaps between documents and what is known, but it can also confuse the issue with irrelevant information. /An interesting study that was released a few years ago did a study of memory by interviewing thousands of people the day after the OJ Simpson trial verdict. They asked them where they were and what they had been doing when they heard the verdict and then a few years later asked them the same questions. Almost half had a completely different memory than the one they had given before and many were very insistent that their current memory was correct and the researches were probably wrong!/
What is the Importance of the Nearby Past?
Nearby history is important for two reasons. The first is that it affects us on a daily basis. What happens in the homes of my community affects me as surely as what happens in mine. And these dynamics will continue to change the experience of the individuals living around me (and me as well) and will affect our decisions which in turn, will affect the history of the community. Nearby history is also important because as I mentioned above, it really helps flesh out the macro image of a historical event and gives the larger picture more nuance, and more accuracy. And history can play a huge role in a person's life and current situation. A person who had bad parents may chose to not have children, or to have children but do counseling and classes to attempt to change patterns in their life, or may chose to do nothing and hope for the best. We are the living embodiment of our history which affects the way we think and what decisions we make. Even the large picture of history is something that affects all of us; climate change, GMO's, war, recession, etc... It may affect us in very different ways – some may choose to volunteer to non-profits in war zones while some may chose smaller ways to contribute such as recycling and trying to reuse items longer before replacing them- but these issues do affect us all.
What Role does History Play in our Lives Today?
By understanding our past, we are better able to understand our future. When we understand what motivated our parents, we understand better why they make the decisions they do. When we understand what motivates us, we can understand better how to accomplish our goals. And understanding what motivates others or why they make the decisions that they do helps us to accomplish our goals because we will be more successful in convincing others to help (or at least not hinder!) We evaluate our history when we teach our children and if we didn't like the way our parents did something, then we try to change it. When we see the struggles that others have made for advancement (ex. civil rights), we feel motivated and capable to continue the struggle which becomes our personal history and a piece of the larger framework. And some groups are defined by our history -whether we are aware of our history or not. As a practicing Mormon, I have found that many people in my church know very little of church history and find themselves shocked by non-members who know more about our history than they do and as a member we are judged- for good or ill- by what people perceive of that history. I am sure that other groups-religious or otherwise- have the same problem. Being ignorant of your history doesn't change it or how it might affect you and your current lifestyle, family, etc...