In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ireland and Memory Studies

  • Introduction
  • Foundational Texts in Memory Studies
  • First-Wave Memory Studies
  • Second-Wave Memory Studies
  • Trauma Studies
  • Holocaust Studies and Memory
  • Transcultural and Transnational Memory Studies
  • General Overviews
  • History and Memory
  • Memory and the Famine
  • Memory and the Irish Revolutionary Period
  • Memory and Northern Ireland
  • Commemoration
  • Material Culture and Memory
  • Performative Memory
  • Memory and Heritage
  • Oral History and Folk Memory
  • Cultural Memory and the Irish Language

British and Irish Literature Ireland and Memory Studies
Oona Frawley
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0137


Because Irish memory studies takes shape in the context of the international field of memory studies, it cannot be considered within only a national context. In its initial stages, memory studies in a global context drew on several arenas: cognitive psychology, sociology, philosophy, Holocaust studies, and trauma studies. Early texts attempted to theorize the ways in which “collective,” “social,” or “cultural” memory took shape (Halbwachs, Connerton, Casey, and others). Later work by historians such as Pierre Nora and by those working in the context of Holocaust studies, such as Hirsch, developed terminology that has spread far and wide. As the field has synthesized, the tendency has been to move from local to national contexts of remembering and, most recently, to comparative and global conceptualizations of memory, including comparative studies of commemorative and memorial practice. Recently, major developments in both Irish and international memory studies have been concerned with what has variously been referred to as the transcultural or transnational turn; there is also the beginnings of work that considers transhistorical cultural memory. For these reasons, this overview begins with the category of memory studies internationally, establishing the major theorists and thinkers in the field. The bibliography below selects, in the interest of space, sometimes only one work by an author working in the field when there are, in fact, additional noteworthy texts.

Foundational Texts in Memory Studies

Memory studies regularly draws on the work of several key figures, ranging from philosophers like Nietzsche to sociologists such as Halbwachs. Among these key figures is also the psychologist often deemed the father of cognitive psychology, Frederic Bartlett, whose work (Bartlett 1954) on “remembering” offered an articulation of memory’s malleability in the human mind and also, by implication, in social contexts, a theme explored by Halbwachs 1992, strongly influenced by Durkheim 2008. Certain of Freud’s essays and lectures have impacted memory studies’ terminology, even though his work did not center on memory.

  • Bartlett, Frederic. Remembering: A Study in Experimental and Social Psychology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1954.

    Originally published 1932. Bartlett’s groundbreaking work on the psychology of memory provided several key ideas to memory studies in the coming decades. Remembering, Bartlett found, was not “the re-excitation of innumerable fixed, lifeless and fragmentary traces. It is an imaginative reconstruction, or construction. . . .” Bartlett’s work has also remained useful for its finding that human memory, like other cognitive processes, was defined by its goal of “effort after meaning.”

  • Bergson, Henri. Matter and Memory. Mineola, NY: Dover, 2004.

    Originally published 1896. Bergson’s influential philosophical treatise on the connection between “body and spirit,” as noted in the book’s subtitle, focused on memory in myriad forms. Bergson sought to consider the relationship between past and present, distinguishing, in the process, between types of memory that would become part of the vocabulary of many other theorists.

  • Durkheim, Émile. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Translated by Carol Cosman. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

    Originally published 1912. Despite not using terms such as “collective” or “cultural” memory, the sociologist Emile Durkheim had a profound effect on ideas of cultural memory with his work on religious ritual and the ways in which cultural continuity is effected through it. The continuities of which he wrote became, for subsequent writers, collective or cultural memory. As Halbwachs’s teacher, Durkheim further shaped the field of memory studies.

  • Ebbinghaus, Hermann. Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology. Los Angeles: HardPress, 2012.

    Originally published 1913. Ebbinghaus’s work on individual memory for numbers and “nonsense syllables” over differing periods of time is key in the early study of memory, and notable for the combination of a thoughtful introductory section on what was known about memory with the rigorous experiments he carried out. His work found that, despite using nonsense syllables in an effort to eliminate meaning and hone in on the essential workings of the mind’s memory work, meaning is nonetheless imposed; this finding would be replicated in Bartlett’s work several decades later.

  • Freud, Sigmund. “Childhood and Screen Memories.” In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Vol. 6, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. Edited and translated by James Strachey. London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1995.

    See also the “Forgetting of Impressions.” Freud contributed to the language used to describe individual memory, and is thus referred to within memory studies (though less so now that there is a developed theory of cultural memory). His use of terms like “screen memories” and “repressed memory” inhabit elements of trauma studies, and his comparison, in Five Lectures, of the early histories of nations and humans gives insight into his views on social or group remembrance.

  • Halbwachs, Maurice. On Collective Memory. Translated by Lewis A. Coser. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

    Originally published 1925. Halbwachs’s interwar text, strongly influenced by his teacher, Émile Durkheim, is one of the earliest treatises to examine how the individual phenomena of memory worked in the collective realm of culture. Halbwachs’s innovation was to analyze the ways that memory forms group identity, and group identity spurs memory: memory, he argued convincingly, is often externally recalled to the individual by others, with the result that “the past is not preserved but is reconstructed on the basis of the present.”

  • Nietzsche, Friederich. Untimely Meditations. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511812101

    Originally published 1886. Nietzsche’s body of work is peppered with reflections on various types of memory and their use. The second of the “untimely meditations,” “On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life,” sees Nietzsche work through a consideration of memory and forgetting in relation to the past. Nietzsche sees forgetting as not only useful but necessary to human action, marking him out as unusual among writers on memory.

  • Proust, Marcel. In Search of Lost Time. 6 vols. Translated by C. K. Scott Montcrieff. New York: Modern Library, 2003.

    Originally published 1913–1927. Proust’s renowned modernist exploration of personal memory, largely involuntary, extends to the thousands of pages, and has served as a challenge and inspiration to those interested in memory studies. The volumes remain among the ultimate literary representations of the power of memory, and are often referred to in relation to ideas of personal memory.

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