What do the memorialized stacks and mill remnants that dot the parking lot of Homestead’s new mall prove? What do they tell us about what was once there? What purpose do they serve in preserving memory? These are questions that don’t have one right answer. The process of memorializing and commemorating the past is not a clear-cut task. The problems arise, perhaps, from the tension between memory and history.
My taped interviews are, in fact, historical documents in one sense or another–they are concrete objects that speak of something that once was. But the voices of those interviews and what they speak of are only memories: vulnerable to deformation, forgetfulness, and misinterpretation. They are just one perspective in a myriad of so-called historical “truths.” I do not want my project to claim to portray any one “truth” in contemplating Homestead’s past; rather, I want my project to consider the fluid quality of memory, and how we must consider both history and memory if we want to gain real insight on our heritage.
Pierre Nora, a French historian and writer, tries to define how memory and history differ, and how that gulf between the two maybe growing in today’s society in his essay “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire.” Nora speaks of how memory and history seem to be in “fundamental opposition” today. Here is an excerpt form that essay:
“History, on the other hand, is the reconstruction, always problematic and incomplete, of what is no longer. Memory is a perpetually actual phenomenon, a bond tying us to the eternal present; history is a representation of the past….Memory installs remembrance within the sacred; history, always prosaic, releases it again.”