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History and Memory: Reflections of Texts

In: Historical Events

Submitted By jmc12334
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Analyse the way in which history and memory generate compelling and unexpected insights. – Jake Cronin

The interaction between history and memory is a complex and dialectic process through which perceptions of the past are negotiated, reinforced or challenged. Despite official history’s dependency on validating its claims through documented evidence, it must be acknowledged that it is not objective and remains vulnerable to distortion of those with political power or hegemony. Similarly, the subjective nature of memory allows for official history to be vulnerable to the bias of personal experience and differing perspectives. Furthermore, although official history and subjective memory both provide adequate insights into the past, it is through the consideration and combination of the two that compelling and unexpected insights into the past are generated. Paul Keating’s ‘The Redfern Address’ offers a reasonable challenge to the dominant historical narrative surrounding the European colonisation of Australia and their acts of social injustice in regards to Indigenous Australians. Similarly, Shaun Tan’s ‘Memorial’ explores Australia’s wartime history through the medium of a community’s personal experiences, perspectives and memories converging to form history, and illuminates the way in which history is dictated by those with political power. Through the dialectic interplay of history and meaning, compelling and unanticipated comprehensions of the past are generated and are negotiated to form the rich fabric of historical awareness.
To begin, Paul Keating’s ‘The Redfern Address’ polemically challenges the colonialist ideology traditionally associated with the history of the European settlement by illuminating the memories and personal experiences of Indigenous stolen generations. The use of the high modality terms such as ‘nothing’ and ‘truth’ in Keating’s contention that “the message should be that there is nothing to fear to lose in the recognition of historical truth” in addition to the use of collective pronouns such as “us” and “our” in his assertion that “…tells us that their failure to bring much more than devastation and demoralisation continues to be our failure”, challenges the dominant historical narrative surrounding European settlement, disrupting the traditional colonialist discourses used to justify the historical subjugation and oppression of Indigenous Australians, providing the audience with an interesting approach to their insight into the past. Moreover, Keating’s description of the dominant European perspective that “this continent had no owners” as “bizarre conceit” illuminates the way in which dominant civilisations such as the Europeans manipulated the meaning of history and the fact that Indigenous Australians were marginalised to the oppression of cultural imperialists. Similarly, Shaun Tan’s ‘Memorial’ explores the way in which those with political power are capable of dictating and marginalising history through the left to right layout of a council worker preparing his chainsaw in order to remove the tree for public safety in opening 12. Furthermore, Keating draws attention to the way in which Aboriginal contributions to society were systematically “…ignored in the history books” highlighting the distortion and bias of documented evidence, reinforcing the domination of the non-Aboriginal society and the oppression of Indigenous Australians. By correctly converging history and memory, a compelling and unexpected insight into past events is produced.
Similarly, Shaun Tan’s ‘Memorial’ explores the dialectic relationship between history and memory, and the way in which they are manipulated by those with hegemonic power. The contrast between the hollowness of the official war memorial of the statue and the ‘other’ memorial of the tree which has been invested with memories and associations highlights the tension between memory and documented evidence. In this case, the statue, as an official public monument, represents the hegemonic construction of official history by the dominant institution of the Government. However, this official monument fails to evoke the vivid and rich details of individual experience that are invested in the tree. Furthermore, the contrast between the urban environment and bitumen filled opening 12 as opposed to the natural environment depicted in opening 10 explores the ways in which those with national and political power maintain the capacity to marginalise local, but yet explicit memories and positions the responder to approach their insight on the past with interest. Similarly, when Keating reminds the audience that “… Australia once reached out to us. Didn’t Australia provide opportunity and care for the dispossessed Irish. The poor of Britain? The refugees from war and famine and persecution in the countries of Europe and Asia” he evokes collective memory from the audience, reflecting the unjust and disgraceful acts of the European’s based on the paternalistic ideologies of cultural imperialism and colonialism and explores, how traditional forms of history may sometimes silence the memories of the minority. Furthermore, the narrator’s contention that “the tree’s a memorial…the same as the statue – except the tree’s alive and the statue’s just a rock…” explores the contrast between official representations of the past in public monuments and commemorations and the oral history and personal narratives that comprise historical consciousness and enthral the responder as they approach an unexpected insight into the past. The idea that documented history and personal recollections of memory maintain a dialectic relationship in which one cannot exist without the other.

Additionally, ‘The Redfern Address’ explores the ways in which the rich fabric of official history regarding European settlement and the Indigenous stolen generation, manipulated by colonialist mythology, can be attained at the intersection of documented history and subjective memory. Keating’s contention that “how well we know our own history… complex as our contemporary identity is, it cannot be separated from Aboriginal Australia” illuminates the relationship between documented history and personal interpretations and the way in which they both impact one another, enthralling the audience to further intensify their insight into the past. Keating’s statement “imagine if ours was the oldest culture in the world and we were told that it was worthless…” communicates the idea that the oppression of memories taints the true meaning behind an historical event, illuminating the dialectic relationship between history and memory that is fundamental. Similarly, the idea that memory is an essential component to the fabric of an historical event is explored in ‘Memorial’ through the line of medals that transform into photographs, superimposed onto the leaves symbolising the endurance of his war-time memories and their investment into the tree. Moreover, Keating’s rhetoric question ‘how would I feel if this were done to me?’ positions the audience to momentarily inhabit Aboriginal history in order to perceive the traumatic experience of colonisation through Indigenous perspective, enabling them to empathise with the subjugation experienced by Indigenous Australians and understand the way in which the dominant perspective has the ability to marginalise or oppress the less dominant, essentially providing them with a compelling insight into the past. In order to achieve an accurate understanding behind an historical event, both documented evidence and subjective memory are equally relevant, and it is this strive that forms interest and unexpected insights into the past.
Furthermore, the subjective and fragmented nature of memories is explored throughout Shaun Tan’s ‘Memorial’ .The narrator’s assertion that “Old Pa’s funny like that. He remembers the tiny details but forgets what you might call the big picture” communicates the subjective nature of memory, evoking the way in which memory is episodic, fragmented and vulnerable to distortion, positioning the audience to clarify the fact that memory and history mutually depend on each other in order to achieve an accurate recall on an historical event, further heightening their compulsion to their insight of the past. Moreover, the fragmented layout and distortion of the “big picture” illuminates the fragile nature of memory and the fact that memory may sometimes explore tiny proportions of an historical event with explicit detail but may “forget the big picture” highlighting the mutual dependency that exists between documented history and memory. Similarly, Keating positions the audience to explore the fragmented nature of the traditional narrative regarding European settlement of Australia with explicit detail in his contention that “it might help us if we non-Aboriginal Australians imagined ourselves dispossessed of land we have lived on for 50 000 years – and then imagined ourselves told that it had never been ours”. Furthermore, as the various family members narrate their memories relating to the tree, the responder is able to perceive the way in which the memorial tree is imbued with a multiplicity of meanings by the community. This is explored through the use of contrast between the sense of innocence and child play in the tree in opening 5 and the romantic adolescent love theme in opening 8 emphasise the way in which memory is subjective and hence exhibits the details of an historical event in a fragmented manner, generating an interest in the approach of insight into the past without subjectivity. The idea that memory maintains a subjective and fragile nature in terms of recounting an historical event is explored.
In conclusion, the interaction between history and memory is a complex and dialectic process through which perceptions of the past are negotiated, reinforced or challenged. Despite official history’s dependency on validating its claims through documented evidence, it must be acknowledged that it is not objective and remains vulnerable to distortion of those with political power or hegemony. Similarly, the subjective nature of memory allows for official history to be vulnerable to the bias of personal experience and differing perspectives. Furthermore, although official history and subjective memory both provide adequate insights into the past, it is through the consideration and combination of the two that compelling and unexpected insights into the past are generated. Paul Keating’s ‘The Redfern Address’ offers a reasonable challenge to the dominant historical narrative surrounding the European colonisation of Australia and their acts of social injustice in regards to Indigenous Australians. Similarly, Shaun Tan’s ‘Memorial’ explores Australia’s wartime history through the medium of a community’s personal experiences, perspectives and memories converging to form history, and illuminates the way in which history is dictated by those with political power. Through the dialectic interplay of history and meaning, compelling and unanticipated comprehensions of the past are generated and are negotiated to form the rich fabric of historical awareness.

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