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Sharpen Your Memory:
"Memorialism" -
the collective memory

Listen to Sharpen Your Memory

Wednesday 2 August 9.00am repeated 9.30pm

Mariella Frostrup

In a new series Mariella Frostrup talks to leading scientists and artists to find out how your memory works.

Why do we have such a clear picture of what we were doing when we heard that John F Kennedy had been shot, or that Princess Diana had died?

In this week's programme Mariella Frostrup looks at so-called 'flashbulb' memory - when personal and public memories connect, and are shared.

And she'll be also asking the writer Marina Warner about collective memory and how groups become defined by a shared history.

The actor, Kwame Kwei-Armah, explores how generations of collective histories were wiped out by slavery, and why he revisited the land of his forebears looking for his real name and sense of identity.

Find out about Marina Warner's Memory Maps


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Stephanie Baker Nicholson
I remember things as if I were a 3rd person looking over the scene a little way off and from above, and not through my eyes when things happened. Stephanie

Christina Thomas
My flashbulb memory occured when I was 9. I remember clearly the expression on my mother's face when she told me that Rajiv Gandhi was assasinated. I was returning from school after winning some competition, and was excited to tell her about it. But couldnt because she was disappointed and sad that her favourite Prime Minister was killed.

Sue Manning-Jones
I always thought that writing things down helped you to remember, i.e. the shopping list that you forget to take with yo but you can still remember the items. I recently found a holiday diary written when I was 17 in 1964. I had spent 6 weeks staying in Sweden with the family of a Swedish girl I had befriended in England. I had lots of vivid memories of this holiday, good and bad, and had shared them with friends, my husband and sons over the years. When I read the diary I found to my amazement that none of these memories were in the diary and I had no recollection at all of the things that were there - such things as getting my hair cut by someone's mother, lusting over some beautiful Italian handbags (nothing changes!) and finding that someone called Rolf was mentioned on almost every page! I vaguely remember him but had no idea how keen I was. He must be over 60 now! Why I wonder have so many of these memories been lost whilst others, unrecorded, have been remembered?

Nick Groves
Hi,one of my flashbulb memories was a rather bizzare experience.When princess Diana died,i was travelling in the united states.That morning i had woken up remembering, for no apparent reason, the fate of one of my parents friends,that i hadnt thought about since childhood.The woman had died in a car crash after starting a new life with her new boyfriend.With that floating around in my head and while eating my breakfast,i began reading some article in a magazine,about Princess Diana's new life and new boyfriend.Then an english girl,living at the same place,came up to me and said"Princess diana's dead Nick.She died in a car crash." That morning was for me such a strange experience

The Jamaican
Seems to me that what is called flashbulb memory is based to some degree on ethnicity, I am Jamaican born, brought up in the UK from an early age, so I was exposed to the same influences as the population at large, but nevertheless I find interesting, that so many people speak of the Kennedy assassination, twin towers Diana and such where as for me it was the death of Bob Marley, Steven Biko, John Lennon, the American invasion of Grenada and the assassination Malcolm X. Edmonton, Canada

Si Bowen
My most vivid memory is also the day Elvis died.. the only reason I mention it is, like Anne Vasey above, I was only very young, I wasn't quite three and I can remember it so vividly. Nothing else sticks out from that era, no other memory from ANY age is as vivid either. I remember it was a hot day the sun appeared to be bright orange, that sticks in my mind. My mum was sitting outside reading the paper in the garden and as I approached her I read the headline 'THE KING IS DEAD'. Confused, as I thought we had a Queen, I asked her what it meant and she said that Elvis, the king of rock and roll had died, and I remember feeling devastated. I was transfixed by all things Elvis for a long while after that. Still think he's brilliant now really if I'm honest. Weird.

Mr Michael Donald Edge
An extremely interesting and enthralling series of programs concerning the memory. I say this because, back in July of 1989 I had a very serious road traffic accident in Saudi Arabia while on my way to one of the company's remote sites in the NE sector of the Kingdom. I had a massive head injury, comatose for three weeks, and still, today (Thursday 03rd August 2006),I'm affected by the traumatic injury to my brain (including the memory). I very much enjoy listening and learning to programs of a kind such as that in the Memory Experience Series as it's my huge desire to recall some of the memories that have been erased and inaccessible (not totally erased, but access blocked for the time being - positive spin)for a long time. My wife passed away in August 1999 (cancer) and hence took a great deal of memories with her time in Saudi hospitals etc. I've only recently began to search for and find various documents and photographs that allow me to piece back, at least some, of the memories that have been lost (or lying dormant) for some time - it's like finding the missing pieces of a jigsaw that's been lying inconveniently on the kitchen table awaiting completion and I'm getting closer to construction creating space on the dining table for proper family use.

I'm not convinced there is anything special about these memories but see them as resulting from the stories we tell and revell about dramatic events.

Anne Vasey
My own flashbulb memory occurred when I was 6. I have a vivid memory of my mother at the kitchen sink telling me that Elvis Presley had died. I was very upset and cried. It wasn't until I had calmed down that my mum had the chance to tell me who he was. Strangely, I have no memory of John Lennon's death being announced, even though that was later, I knew who he was, and I was in Merseyside.

Angela Merritt
My flashbulb memories seem to occur when in unusual places.I remember the death of King George 6th as I was standing in front of my first class on teaching practice and was on holiday in Ireland when the Twin Towers were destroyed.

Betty Coster
I was evacuated in 1939 to the village of Naughton in Suffolk, close to Wattisham aerodrome. I was billeted at the Manor House with my brother b.1933 - I was born in 1929. Colonel Stevens was the owner of the house and we were in the kitchen with the cook and Nancy, the maid and their brother, who was the gardener. Their surname was Pryke. Also sitting round the large kitchen table were one of our teachers(Miss Kitson) and a lady social worker who had evacuated with my school. They were billeted there also. The Colonel and his wife were in another part of the house (I think!) I remember most clearly the sadness in Mr. Chamberlain's voice when he said we were at war with Germany. Then cook said that we should go out and play as she had to get on with Sunday dinner. I have some very clear memories of my early childhood before the war and I can still recall the surroundings of the episodes as though they were photographs and the events are always through my eyes.

Sanjay Kumar
Hi, Interesting programme. Funnily enough i have great memory at work when i am focussed and under pressue. When i get home i never remeber anything my wife says. I also have difficulty remembering routines i learn at dance classes. Is this a case of selective memory?

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