Professor Popkin’s talk brought forth the difference between memory and history. There can be both types of accounts for one same event. Memory is the emotionally charged version of it, while history is a carefully documented account of events that scholars put together. Although in theory the difference seems very straightforward, there are texts that bend and stretch the boundaries between these two concepts.
For example, Gros’ An Historick Recital is a first person account of what happened during the San Domingue insurrection. However, its trustworthiness can be debated: if it is a first person account, how do we know it actually happened? How do we know it’s not a furthering of political motivations?
The English version of Gros’ narrative is composed of two different texts. The first one is a chronological account of his experiences in captivity, while the second one consists of an account of the events that led up to the uprising written especially for American readers. Gros acknowledges this difference and affirms that “circumstances” obliged him to restrain his descriptions of the atrocities the slaves committed in the first part. The first part of his narrative was written in a time of political tension between the people in San Domingue, while the second one was written years later when that political tension had broken down.
I often find that airport stories are an interesting example on the difference between memory and history. I don’t know why, but airports seem to get the worst of people. When I ask “how was your flight?” my friends say something along the lines of “OH MY GOD IT WAS AWFUL. First, we boarded TWENTy MINUTES LATE. Then, they made us just SIT THERE for LIKE AN HOUR and they didn’t SAY anything. After we landed, MY BAGS were not THERE OH MY GOD so I HAD TO WAIT…” and it makes it sound like the worst day of their lives. Perhaps a factual account of what happened might have not made it seem that bad. A simple example like this one makes the difference between emotionally charged accounts and factual retellings. At the airport scale it might not make that much of a difference, but when the account is about something at a nationwide scale, it can have greater consequences. Gros’ account, for example, proposed how not only could the slaves rise against their French patrons, but how they did so in an organized fashion to follow a political and military cause.