From Medieval Mnemonics to a Social Construction of Memory

From Medieval Mnemonics to a Social Construction of Memory

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From Medieval Mnemonics to a Social Construction of Memory: Thoughts on Some Early European Conceptualizations of Memory, Morality, and Consciousness

By Noel Packard and Christopher Chen


Abstract: How did human memory activity, conceived of as an activity that helped bring a person closer to God, become affiliated with early sociological conceptualizations of a social construction of reality? This article explores one way of answering this question by considering some social conceptions of human memory from medieval times to modernity. In the Middle Ages, a good memory was an important characteristic of the most esteemed scholars. Rhetoric was enhanced through mnemotechniques. Memory as practiced activity complemented early theological concepts of self-consciousness, or “being” closer to God, and morality and complemented early interpretations of contract law, casuistry, and jurisprudence. These concepts changed when religious belief, educational, and legal systems changed to meet the needs of a modern, capitalistic, and secular society. Capitalism facilitated the development of memory in commodity form, and human memory was claimed from metaphysical discourse as an object of scientific study by sociologists Emile Durkheim and Maurice Halbwachs.

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