Borderlands between history and memory: Latgalia in mnemohistory
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This study investigates the relationship between how the past appears in collective memory, or ‘mnemohistory’ (J. Assmann 1997), and how history is recorded by historians as part of the historiographical accumulation of knowledge about the past. It argues that this distinction is important for our understanding of geographical borderlands, especially those which have been subject to numerous geopolitical border changes and where there is a divergence between what is remembered of the past in collective memory and what is recorded of the past in History. This study proposes a novel synthesis of concepts by applying Aleida Assmann’s (2011) distinction between functional memory and storage memory to borderlands in order to investigate the palimpsests-like layering of memory that occur there. Based on Aleida Assmann’s (2008a) concepts of ‘canon’ and ‘archive’, an interdisciplinary mixed methods approach to studying functional and storage memory in borderlands is developed using a combination of critical discourse analysis (CDA) of museums, qualitative survey analysis and an expert interview. This theoretical framework is applied to the case study of Latgalia in eastern Latvia, which has thus far been largely neglected in the literature. The functional memory is studied through an analysis of the historical narratives presented in three museums and the storage memory landscape is examined through an expert survey of professional historians of Latgalia and an interview. The analysis exposes key differences between the functional memory and storage memory: whereas the mnemohistory of Latgalia is largely incorporated within the framework of the Latvian national canon, professional History research represents a more diversified and transnational memory. This study highlights how the mnemohistory of borderlands is subjected to the contradictory dynamics of nationalisation and marginalisation, the ways that the past can be mobilised in both the functional and storage memory realms as part of regional identity movements, and how borderland minorities can construct and maintain narratives about the past which diverge from the national canon. The theoretical framework developed in this study can be applied to further research on mnemohistory in borderlands and border regions.