Originally published 03/25/2013
Edward Berenson is professor of history and director of the Institute of French Studies at NYU. He is the author, most recently, of The Statue of Liberty. A Transatlantic Story (2012) and Heroes of Empire (2010). From 2008 to 2012, he directed, with Denis Peschanski and the leaders of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum and the Memorial de Caen in France, an international research project on the history and memorialization of traumatic events.Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post.Joshua Foer shows that even ordinary people can perform extraordinary feats of memory. He cites the historical precedent of the ancient Romans who didn't have printing presses and couldn't look things up. They had to rely on memory.The Roman example is telling, but historians nowadays tend to be interested in different facets of memory, especially "collective memory" and its mirror image, forgetting. Among other things, we want to know how a society or community's memory of important events changes over time. Those changes often involve forgetting what we once knew -- or thought we knew.