Remembering Mousehold Heath
Processes of memorialisation and memory work have long been a focus of academic debate across disciplines. A growing body of literature is now concerned with acts of commemoration and memorialisation not as a means of preserving some authentic version of history, as valued by the nation-state, but rather as a social process that realises the operations of memory as a blend of official, yet also deeply personal engagements with the past. Halbwachs noted long ago how official narratives of the past can provide a framework through which people find a language to express their memories and personal experiences. Halbwachs was concerned with how autobiographical memory dialectically relates to the collective memory of a social group and to the broader historical memory of society. As later work has shown, to subsume all memories and experiences into a shared narrative overlooks the possibility of alternative memories, and conflictual meanings of the past. Formal narratives are continuously interrogated and disrupted by individuals in their day-to-day practices and, as Frentress and Wickham note, opposition movements that employ prescribed historical narratives commemorate the past with different emphases and political valencies. Historical memory can therefore provide a prompt for alternative, less consensual sometimes conflictual responses and meanings, and can act as a conduit for the expression of alternative values and associations. In his writing on the production of space Lefebvre suggests the creation of ‘counter-space’, formed in opposition to hegemonic spaces. This he argues is central to the functioning of the political economy and realisation of the potential for revolutionary change by overthrowing the prescribed socio-political order.
Research leading to this article has been supported by the European Research Council (ERC Grant Agreement no. 284085: ‘The Past in its Place’, with Professor Philip Schwyzer). I am particularly grateful to Briony McDonagh and Tim Cooper for their thoughts and comments.