In her book, Mediated Memories in the Digital Age, José van Dijck introduces the concept of “mediated memories,” media-produced personal mementos such as those one might keep in a shoe box.1 “These items,” she explains, “mediate not only remembrances of things past; they also mediate relationships between individuals and groups of any kind (such as family, school classes, and scouting clubs)” (1). As memory objects, van Dijck argues, mediated memories represent both our autobiographical memories and cultural identity.

While social memory studies has always claimed that autobiographical memory—personal remembering—is entwined with the social,2 her focus on these mediated memory objects which have a simultaneous personal and cultural connection has led her to also coin the term “personal cultural memory,” which she defines as “[t]he acts and products of remembering in which individuals engage to make sense of their lives in relation to the lives of others and their surroundings, situating them in time and place” (6). She then explains that within this construct the terms personal and cultural are “threads that bind memory’s texture: they can be distinguished, but they never can be separated” (6).

This conception of personal cultural memory is important she argues because it

allows for a conceptualization of memory that includes dimensions of identity and relationship, time and materiality […] The term emphasizes that some aspects of memory need to be explained from processes at work in our society that we commonly label as culture—mores, practices, traditions, technologies, mechanics, and routines—whereas the same processes contribute to, and derive from, the formation of individual identities. Yet by advocating a definition of cultural memory that highlights the significance of personal collections, I do not mean to disavow the import of collective culture. Quote to the contrary, if we acknowledge that individual preferences are filtered through cultural conventions or social frameworks, we are obligated to further explore the intricate connection between the individual and collective in the construction of cultural memory (8).

I’ve been greatly enjoying reading van Dijck’s book as it compliments, complicates, overlaps, and extends my own thinking on mnemonic practices and mnemonic objects and the complicated and blurry boundary between autobiographical and social memory. I find particularly useful her conception of the relationship between the personal and the cultural as threads that can be identified but can not be separated.

  1. With this post, I hope to be getting back to one of the original functions of this blog: that of a commonplace book for my thinking about and research into memoria. []
  2. Quite literally: this claim was first made by Maurice Hawlbachs, the sociologist who proposed the concept of collective memory. []