Memory and Forgetting in Istanbul by Charles Allen Scarboro

‘I remember,’ I say, thinking that memories belong to me as a person – after all – they are my memories. We act as if memories were unique, each of us collecting traces of events and feelings that belong to us alone. However, for more than one hundred years, sociologists have challenged this idea of memory and have worked to show that our memories are mostly not our own, but rather constructs that live only within social frameworks. Our personal memories take shape and are realised and expressed within networks of social, collective memories. First, a society remembers, then the actors create memories within a specific society which set limits and vistas within which ones memories are possible.

My memories are like one cobblestone that in combination with thousands of other cobblestones forms the streets that thread throughout Avcilar, a suburb of Istanbul where I live. The streets and the town itself provide the framework within which each single cobblestone makes sense. Further, a street is not just a bunch of cobblestones; a street is a higher pattern, a more inclusive ordering that determines where the cobblestones are placed. If the cobblestone is my memory, then the street, indeed all of Avcilar, is a collective memory. That collective memory arranges the individual cobblestones and, in fact, makes the individual cobblestone meaningful.

As we become more alert to the contexts of our own memories within the larger constellations of memories outside our own lives and groups, we can better hear the stories of others and, by hearing, find ways to live together where we are no longer strangers. By learning to participate in the memories of others, their stories also become our stories. Our memories grow to include an ever larger human family.

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