History and Popular Memory The Power of Story in Moments of CrisisPaul A. Cohen, Columbia University Press, 2014

Paul A. Cohen identifies the interplay between story and history as a worldwide phenomenon, found in countries of radically different cultural, religious, and social character. He focuses here on Serbia, Israel, China, France, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain, all of which experienced severe crises in the twentieth century and, in response, appropriated age-old historical narratives that resonated with what was happening in the present to serve a unifying, restorative purpose. A central theme in the book is the distinction between popular memory and history. Although vitally important to historians, this distinction is routinely blurred in people’s minds, and the historian’s truth often cannot compete with the power of a compelling story from the past, even when it has been seriously distorted by myth or political manipulation. Cohen concludes by suggesting that the patterns of interaction he probes, given their near universality, may well be rooted in certain human propensities that transcend cultural difference.

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