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UNIT 2: History and Memory

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READINGS

Reading 1

Candice Goucher, Charles LeGuin, and Linda Walton, In the Balance: Themes in World History (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1998). Selections from chapter 9, "Culture and Memory."

Abstract: This essay explores the many ways that human cultures remember and commemorate the past, as well as the meanings of those remembrances. All people remember and tell about the past. However, there are many ways to go about it: Some societies remember the past through oral traditions, and some have emphasized written traditions. Some express collective memories in architecture, and some in religious cosmologies. But all societies—including our own— negotiate, produce, and reproduce culture in the very process of expressing and transmitting it.

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Reading 2

Linda Schele, "History, Writing, and Image in Maya Art," The Art Bulletin 78 (Spring 1996): 412–16.

Abstract: This essay explores the recent revolution in recovering the history of the Maya, as well as the author's personal journey into understanding the significance of that history. Since the 1970s, scholars have taken dramatic steps toward reconstructing ancient Mayan history through breakthroughs in deciphering Mayan glyphs. As a result of these breakthroughs, Mayan culture is now viewed as urban and violent rather than rural and peace-loving. The author, who was a key player in publicizing this historical re-interpretation, has found over the years that such re-interpretations matter more to some people than to others. For the descendants of the Mayan people, this revolution in historical understanding is a matter of immediate and central relevance for contemporary identity formation.

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Reading 3

Stephen J. Summerhill and John Alexander Williams, Sinking Columbus: Contested History, Cultural Politics, and Mythmaking during the Quincentenary (Gainesville: University Press of Florida).

Abstract: This review of Summerhill and Williams' Sinking Columbus praises the book for its detailed attention to the (generally unsuccessful) global efforts to commemorate the Quincentenary of Columbus' arrival in the Americas. It documents the conflicts that marked preparations to celebrate the Quincentenary in the United States— both between Latinos and Italians, and between Native Americans and Columbus enthusiasts— as well as the poor planning and meager successes that marked these preparations. This pattern played out in similar ways all over the world, including in Latin America, Italy, Mexico, and Japan. The only exception to this general rule was in Spain, where several celebrations attracted large numbers of visitors. Even so, all of the commemorations were marked by a lack of attention to the negative aspects of the Columbian encounter.

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