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Time Maps

Collective Memory and the Social Shape of the Past

Time Maps

Collective Memory and the Social Shape of the Past

"Time Maps extends beyond all of the old clichés about linear, circular, and spiral patterns of historical process and provides us with models of the actual legends used to map history. It is a brilliant and elegant exercise in model building that provides new insights into some of the old questions about philosophy of history, historical narrative, and what is called straight history."-Hayden White, University of California, Santa Cruz

Who were the first people to inhabit North America? Does the West Bank belong to the Arabs or the Jews? Why are racists so obsessed with origins? Is a seventh cousin still a cousin? Why do some societies name their children after dead ancestors?

As Eviatar Zerubavel demonstrates in Time Maps, we cannot answer burning questions such as these without a deeper understanding of how we envision the past. In a pioneering attempt to map the structure of our collective memory, Zerubavel considers the cognitive patterns we use to organize the past in our minds and the mental strategies that help us string together unrelated events into coherent and meaningful narratives, as well as the social grammar of battles over conflicting interpretations of history. Drawing on fascinating examples that range from Hiroshima to the Holocaust, from Columbus to Lucy, and from ancient Egypt to the former Yugoslavia, Zerubavel shows how we construct historical origins; how we tie discontinuous events together into stories; how we link families and entire nations through genealogies; and how we separate distinct historical periods from one another through watersheds, such as the invention of fire or the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Most people think the Roman Empire ended in 476, even though it lasted another 977 years in Byzantium. Challenging such conventional wisdom, Time Maps will be must reading for anyone interested in how the history of our world takes shape.

187 pages | 1 line drawing, 23 figures | 6 x 9 | © 2003

History: General History

Sociology: Social History, Theory and Sociology of Knowledge


"[Zerubavel] argues for a ’sociomental topography of the past’ as a framework for understanding how time and cognition interact. His conception, therefore, is at once sociological, mental, and topographical--it combines influences of social patterns, cognitive processes, and visual organization. . . . Zerubavel shows that divisions of time are neither natural nor consensual; rather, they have particular histories and, more importantly, particular cultural roles. . . . The point is clear and has a pedigree reaching back to Durkheim and Mauss: culture’s job is classification, and without classification we have no access to meaning, whether individual or shared."

Andrew J. Perrin | Social Forces

"This is a major contribution to the study of the social shape of memory."

Eric Hobsbawm | BBC History Magazine

"The quest for a universal framework for the study of social time is certainly audacious. . . . Zerubavel’s preliminary exploration confirms the daunting challenges to such a venture, but he also draws attention to the many benefits that will accrue to a sociology that, at long last, takes seriously the centrality of time in social life."

Joseph M. Bryant | Contemporary Sociology

"[Zerubavel’s] erudition and insight are dazzling. . . . Here is a book for historians, educators, and social scientists alike. I cannot imagine it not appealing . . . to graduate students and liberal arts undergraduates. No work better captures the generic forms of collective memory; no investigator defines more clearly the objects of collective memory scholarship. Time Maps embodies the research tradition that Eviatar Zerubavel has done so much to advance."

Barry Schwartz | American Journal of Sociology

“[Time Maps] makes scores of powerful points about the ways collectivities classify the passage of time, documented by appropriate, usually persuasive, and delightfully unpredictable illustrations. In the best tradition of symbolic interactionism it makes an accessible and convincing case for the pragmatic character of processes of social construction, in this instance of collective self-understandings and identities mediated through temporal classification.”

Alan Warde | Sociology

“Best Books”

“This is a major contribution to the study of the social shape of memory.”

Eric Hobsbawm | BBC History Magazine

“[Zerubavel’s] objective is to better understand how individuals and communities remember the past, how groups identify with their collective past and so constitute a collective identity.  To this end, this very big little book is organized around the structures of collective social memory: how time is rendered in formal, coherent narratives; the various bridges that are built to ensure historical continuity; the power of genealogical connections to connect past to present; the importance of the social punctuation of the past into discrete periods; the use of collective origins and antiquity to ensure legitimacy.’


“In this lively book, replete with illuminating examples, Zerubavel considers the cognitive patterns we, as societies, use to organize thoughts of the past. . . . Social memory is not a mere reproduction of objective facts and not entirely subjective either.  Being social, and identifying with any social group, involves an ability to experience events that happened to the groups before we joined them, or maybe even existed, as if they were part of our own personal past.  Groups acquaint members with their past, creating group memories and individual identifications with the group.”

Mark Aultman | Kronoscope

"An excellent book. It is a pleasure to read, both for the range of examples and for the skillful work done to tie them together. And it advances our understanding of collective memory and social cognition by bridging numerous individual case studies to construct a general theory."

Andrew J. Perrin | Social Forces

Table of Contents

List of Figures
Introduction- The Social Structure of Memory
Plotlines and Narratives
A Zigzag in Time
Ladders and Trees
Circles and Rhymes
Mountains and Valleys
Legato and Staccato
Same Place
Relics and Memorabilia
Imitations and Replication
"Same" Time
Historical Analogy
Discursive Continuity
Dynasties and Pedigree
Common Descent
The Social Organization of Descent
The "Family of Man"
Apes and Grapes
Language and Lineage
The Social Punctuation of the Past
Assimilation and Differentiation
History and Prehistory
The Social Construction of Historical Discontinuity
Author Index
Subject Index

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