The creation and recounting of all memories involves an element of fiction. A myriad of factors, including the identity of the “storyteller” (the creator/holder of the memory), the identity of the audience, and the relationship between the two invariably shape remembrance. Acknowledging these influences on memory consequently raises the question of why do we remember what we do?
The answer is different for every individual. Additionally, we do not only hold the memories from our own lifetimes. We have a social memory, a shared knowledge of a history with which we identify and empathize, even if the memory is of events and people that we have never personally experienced.
The term “memory” is used here to establish and reinforce an association between the notion of memory (and its bias, subjectivity, and unreliability) and the history of a nation. While historical facts can be remembered and forgotten, the sentiments wrought from icons and stories of our past can often be retained over a lifetime.
“A United State: American Memory and Identity in the Stereograph” calls attention to the relationship between history, memory, and identity, realizing that all three together are powerful influences in establishing the meaning of the term “American.” Stereographs from the Library Company of Philadelphia’s Raymond Holstein Stereograph Collection (Click her for Holstein Flikr Group) illustrate this theme and serve as the focus of this exhibition.
Published in America between the 1850s and the 1920s, stereographs offer insight into the narrative Americans retrospectively and prophetically constructed about themselves. By combining photographs and text (titles, descriptive captions, and narrative paragraphs), stereograph publishers entered into late-19th- and early-20th-century discourses on American identity and history, prescribing and mirroring the values of their potential consumers.
As you view the stereographs, either read the curator’s thoughts about collective memory and American identity by hovering over the images or form your own interpretations.
Print Department intern, Summer 2013