Landscape of Memory

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The Concept of Memoryscapes

What the heck is a memoryscape? It’s a term I borrowed from geography, but it refers to a phenomenon that we all are familiar with. Human beings exist on a living planet. Earth would exist with or without us. However, we are unable to know the natural world in which we live without viewing it through the lens of our experiences and our culture. We relate to the world around us– our houses, streets, offices, hiking paths, and the rest of the world– based on the things we’ve done, stuff we’ve heard, and the social rules that guide our conduct (these rules of conduct are also part of our culture). Landscapes are human constructs that come from our memories and culture. Sure, the Earth and the rest of the galaxy exists without us. Physics, geology, and the rest of science tells us that. But, we cannot know this world without viewing it from the perspective of our culture because culture is embedded so deeply within our minds. Landscapes are the human way of knowing the terrain upon which we live.

Landscapes exist not only in the present. They are also part of our memories. Think about it. Do you remember every single thing you encountered on your way to work/school this morning? What the names of all the streets you passed on your way home today? How did you know which way to go to get to work? You knew how to get to work and back because you know how your landscape works. If you drove, you know the rules of the road, the fastest route between your home and office, and how to get around traffic if it starts slowing you down. You know the landscape within which you live because it is familiar to you– its in your memory. And, you know how to travel through your landscape because of the memories you have of doing it in the past. While you may not be able to recall the location, shape, and color of every single thing on the landscape, it is familiar to you because a version of it exists in your memories.

Memoryscapes are the way human beings remember the landscapes in which they live. It is the places you can “see” when you close your eyes. For social scientists, memoryscapes are important because they help us understand the ways people know the places where they live, work, and play. We social scientists want to know what other people are thinking and why they have those thoughts. Researching memoryscapes is another way to make sense of the world of human beings.

The River Street Neighborhood as a Landscape of Memory

Most of the detached, single-family dwellings in River Street have been destroyed through various development projects. The physical structures that used to make River Street a community have been lost. Most of what remains exists in the memories of people that used to live there. In 2014, I gave a presentation on how the concept of memoryscapes relates to the River Street Neighborhood. You can see a screencast of that presentation below. Or, you can check out the Slideshare version of the same presentation:



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