«[I]t is easy to imagine that we ought to remember the past: but we do not remember the past. It is the present that we remember: that is, we “remember” what remains living within our situations now. We think the past: that is, we construct or reconstruct it on the basis of certain critical procedures (…) Almost invariably, when historical understanding is described as “remembering”, we can infer that we are confronting an attempt to promote some presumably desirable collective identity in the present»
«It is a mistake to see memory and history as continuous with each other: a mistake, for example, to think of memory as the raw material of history. It is likewise a mistake to think that history is simply the sum of all possible memories: pace Tolstoy, the Battle of Waterloo is not to be reconstructed by bringing together all memories of it. But it is equally a mistake to see history and memory as simply opposed to each other. On the one hand, far from being history´s raw material, memory is an Other that continually haunts history. Memory is an image of the past constructed by a subjectivity in the present. It is thus by definition subjective; it may also be irrational and inconsistent. On the other hand, history as a discipline has the obligation to be objective, unified, orderly, justified. Yet it cannot entirely be so, for there is always a residue of incomprehensibility behind what is known, and an engagement with subjectivity that cannot be eliminated (…) In its demands for proof, history stands in sharp opposition to memory. History reminds memory of the need for evidence coming from eyewitnesses (autopsy) and from material remains. Memory is a domain of obscurity: it is not to be trusted. Yet one should not think that history is by this token the domain of light, for along with the relative light of history and the relative darkness of memory, we must acknowledge a vast domain of historical unknowability. This lesson arises from the uncertainty of identity in our time, for in undermining the notion that a single authoritative perspective exists to which we can have access, the uncertainty of identity also undermines the arrogance of both history and memory: on the one hand, the arrogance of definitiveness; on the other, the arrogance of authenticity.»
Allan Megill, “History, Memory, Identity”, History of the Human Sciences, 11 (3), 1998, pp. 37-62 [reprinted in Historical Knowledge, Historical Error: A Contemporary Guide to Practice, Chicago (Il.), University of Chicago Press, 2007, pp. 54, 57].