The positivist tradition of nineteenth century history, dominated by the idea of the nation and based on the archive, began in the 1970s to give way to a concern with recent history, in which the historical witness became paramount. With the past ceasing to be a body of knowledge and becoming a public issue, a new form of political influence has exerted itself upon historians. In the French case, the subject of colonialism is particularly controversial. Now more than ever it is crucial historians retain critical distance.
is Professor of History at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris. Amongst other publications, he is the editor of Les lieux de memoire, Paris 1984-93 and editor of the magazine Le débat.
Over the last quarter century, every country, every social, ethnic or family group, has undergone a profound change in the relationship it traditionally enjoyed with the past. Pierre Nora looks at where this “memorialism” came from and why.