History & Memory Essay

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How have texts studied in this elective challenged your ways of thinking about ‘History and Memory’? Make detailed to your prescribed text and at least ONE other related text of your own choosing.

“That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.” Perhaps in recognising man’s failure to take heed of his fellow man, Aldous Huxley was recognising that humans lack the capability to learn vicariously. For in history, through its emphasis on the superficial analysis of documents and archival data, the experience of individuals are lost. This highlights the variations of the past, for moments in time may encompass both suffering and triumph. Mark Baker’s The Fiftieth Gate, set against the backdrop of the Holocaust, uses history as a vehicle to verify his parents’ memories. Confronted by Genia’s unique past, however, Baker must relinquish his rudimentary need for factual verification, and accept the legitimacy of personal memory. The Smithsonian Institution’s website, September 11: Bearing Witness to History and Roman Polanski’s documentary Pianist: A Story of Survival, also explore the intimate connection between history and memory. Two accounts of the past, however, are rarely alike, manipulated by the biases of personal experience. Therefore, history is not an objective analysis of the past, rather a representation of individual and collective memory.

The past is not finite, as The Fiftieth Gate highlights, it is a world marked by shifting perceptions and contrasting moments of suffering and triumph. As a testimony to the importance of memory on subsequent existence, Baker achieves a coalescence of past and present. Though wrought with a duality of roles, as the son of Holocaust victims, and an historian, Baker feels compelled to side with a chosen medium. With history affecting his life from an early age, quantifying and validating his parents’ past became his obsession. In imbuing...
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