Rites of Oblivion
An understanding of the historical dynamics of social forgetting can be learned from the detailed case study of the vernacular historiography of the 1798 Rebellion in Ulster. It has far-reaching implications for a more meaningful appreciation of the relationship between history and memory. The political impasse in post-conflict Northern Ireland, which has stumbled over disagreements on ‘dealing with the past’ in the context of finding acceptable arrangements for transitional justice, could benefit from showing more sensitivity, not only to the role of oral history storytelling, but also to ingrained traditions of ‘vernacular silence’ that perpetuate social forgetting. A brief inspection of some prominent twentieth-century examples demonstrates the wider relevance of studying social forgetting. In today’s digital age, explorations of social forgetting suggest new possibilities for reconciling conflicts between an inner duty to remember and the right to be outwardly forgotten.
Keywords: transitional justice, post-conflict Northern Ireland, Vichy Syndrome, post-war Europe, Holocaust remembrance, decolonization, post-communism, memory laws, historiography, the right to be forgotten
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