Negotiating the Boundary between Representation and Experience
Nearly all of the work in the historiography of collective memory has focused on issues of historical representation. Still, experience remains its existential ground, and the postmodern emphasis on the rhetoric of historical discourse has incited a reactive interest in human subjectivity. Those scholars stressing representation maintain a sober critical distance from their subject matter. Those favoring experience stress vicarious emotional identification with the historical actors of the past, as if it were possible to make them “come alive again.” The latter approach has long been identified with amateur historians, history buffs, and writers of historical fiction. But since the turn of the twentieth century, some professional historians express openness toward the heuristic value of performative modes of presenting the past for drawing a wider public into an interest in history. I review recent historiographical discussion of the nature and significance of this broader understanding of the historians’ enterprise.