Past Times: Temporal Structuring of History and Memory


  • Kevin Birth


In On Collective Memory, Maurice Halbwachs asks, “Why does society establish landmarks in time that are placed close together—and usually in a very irregular manner, since for certain periods they are almost entirely lacking—whereas around such salient events sometimes many other equally salient events seem to gather, just as street signs and other signposts multiply as a tourist attraction approaches?” (1992:175). The recognition of the “irregular manner” of history and memory only emerges in contrast to a concept of the regularity of time implied by objectifying chronologies. Furthermore, such irregularity suggests that concepts of time other than chronology are crucial for understanding representations of the past, and experiences of the past in the present. This article draws on nondirected interviews conducted in rural Trinidad in which subjects discussed significant events in their lives. In examining this material, I address Halbwachs's question by emphasizing nonchronological, cultural models of time that organize autobiographical narratives. These cultural models position autobiographical narratives in space and connect them to events of historical significance. [time, memory, intersubjectivity, labor, Trinidad]