Frederick C. Corney
Associate Professor Department of History The College of William & Mary
My research and teaching interests centre largely on the early period of Soviet history, particularly the first decade of Soviet rule, and the intersections of the fields of history and memory. I am interested in the broad cultural policies deployed in the making of modern Soviet Russia, particularly as they pertain to the construction of foundation myths for the new socialist state. This interest brought me to the burgeoning field of "memory studies." The Bolsheviks' early efforts were accretive and multiple, and included a broad process of memory articulation - instigated by state agencies - at both the group and individual level. They ranged from the ‛monumentalization‛ of memories (through changed topographies and toponymies, mass ritualized commemorations, statues, museums, libraries, etc) to more intimate and intrusive methods of the group framing of memories. As such, members of the population were afforded the opportunity (or compelled) to write themselves into the new Soviet state very often through the articulation of their memories. The early theoretical writings on memory and remembering helped me to understand the real significance of the, now commonplace, observation that memory should be understood in terms of construction rather than recall, and caused me to examine closely the dynamics of group remembering. I therefore tend to avoid the term "collective memory" because, despite Halbwachs‛ intent, it has tended to relegate the process of memory beneath a reified Memory. Indeed, I have used the term ‛remembering‛ far more often than ‛memory‛ for the same reason, as it allows me to identify agency in the historical process far more clearly.
I am also interested in the corollaries of these processes of memory formation in the historical sense. First, the suppression of counter-narratives in which counter-memories might be formed, in a sense forgetting as an active process. Second, the role of nostalgia in both cementing and undermining memory formation. Third, the interplay between memory articulation and questions of political or cultural power intrigue me. While significant counter-narratives to the October Revolution were effectively suppressed inside Soviet Russia where the Bolshevik regime had a near monopoly on the instruments of historical production, they persisted outside of the country in the émigré centres of Europe and America (in political cultures defined very much by their differences with the communist regime). As the power matrices of Soviet and post-Soviet Russia have changed, these preserved counter-narratives are now being ‛re-remembered‛ in interesting ways as part of post-Soviet Russian culture.