Preserving memory and disrupting memory: The historian’s inherently dual role. A reading of Pierre Laborie

Readings of Pierre Laborie
By Cécile Vast

Collective emotions, collective mindset, very contemporary, double-thought, non-consent: All these concepts developed by Pierre Laborie are an attempt to explain the social complexity of reality and to describe the epistemological singularity of the history of the period 1939-1945. These concepts are frequently referenced in Laborie’s unique scholarly works that constantly shift back and forth between the analysis of a clearly defined object or area (the Lot département of south-west France in the 1930s and 1940s, the opinion and behaviour of groups, the Résistance, the stakes of memory) and a methodological reflection on how to write history. Among the concepts used, Laborie’s oxymoron sauve-mémoire et trouble-mémoire (preserve or ‘save’ memory, and disrupt or ‘forget’ memory), which this paper explores in detail. This odd, apparently contradictory concept refers to the historian’s ethical approach, faced with uses of the past that are increasingly far removed from direct knowledge. While trouble refers to critical knowledge, sauve has multiple meanings that help shed light on the concept.

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