A few months ago a good friend of mine, just turned 80, handed me a slim book. “You might want to read it” he said “It’s about the years of my childhood, from the start of the second World War to its aftermath”. It was only when I started reading it that I realized that the author of the booklet was my friend and that, interestingly, the publisher’s name was “Memoramia, digging into the mines of memory”.
Weeks later, commenting on this episode with friends, I discovered that writing down own memories, family stories or even reconstructing family trees was not at all an uncommon exercise with ageing people. I was puzzled: why would anyone decide to become the first-hand historian of his family circle in the age of Internet, Wikipedia, and the like?
We need generational continuity
An obvious explanation would be the fear of oblivion that pervades us at some point in life together with the need of providing a sense of continuity, a sort of bridge between generations. Long before the advent of the television era, family members would sit in the evenings to chat or listen to the story telling of old folks. Word of mouth represented the main tool for passing on experience and keeping alive the memory bank of the family group.
As we all know, the undisputed triumph of today’s media communication has all but shrunk the time people allow for intergenerational relationships.
Questionable as it may sound, it could be said that a silent counter movement is taking place reverting to traditional values in a rather traditional way: writing down facts of life, past and present. In addition, the long and persistent crisis affecting most European countries, while emptying the pockets of the middle and lower classes, is bringing along a more sober life style, plus a second thought on consumerism. And this also could help explain the phenomenon just described.
History is also about ordinary people
A more intellectually stimulating reading of the fact in point would make reference to the role of the individual in the history making process. History with capital H records epochal events, dates and outstanding personalities very often one-sidedly, driven by rulers and prevailing powers and unabashedly in favor of the winners. The masses contribute only in case of revolutions or famines, and common people are doomed to the dust of time. Thus, digging into the mines of memory to bring to the surface facts, personal stories, dates related with family, living place means reclaiming the right for each individual to belong to history.
Still pondering the matter, last night I opened my computer, titled a new file and started typing: ”Bombings were the soundtrack of my birth in a hot evening of July 1942…”. My personal challenge to history writing was on its way.