How do we use our mental images of the present to reconstruct
our past? Maurice Halbwachs (1877-1945) addressed this
question for the first time in his work on collective memory,
which established him as a major figure in the history of
sociology. This volume, the first comprehensive English-
language translation of Halbwach's writings on the social
construction of memory, fills a major gap in the literature
on the sociology of knowledge.
Halbwachs' primary thesis is that human memory can only
function within a collective context. Collective memory,
Halbwachs asserts, is always selective; various groups of
people have different collective memories, which in turn give
rise to different modes of behavior. Halbwachs shows, for
example, how pilgrims to the Holy Land over the centuries
evoked very different images of the events of Jesus' life;
how wealthy old families in France have a memory of the past
that diverges sharply from that of the nouveaux riches; and
how working class constructions of reality differ from those
of their middle-class counterparts.
With a detailed introduction by Lewis A. Coser, this
translation will be an indispensable source for new research
in historical sociology and cultural memory.
Lewis A. Coser is Distinguished Professor of Sociology
Emeritus at the State University of New York and Adjunct
Professor of Sociology at Boston College.
The Heritage of Sociology series