To support: The development of an undergraduate honors seminar on the question, What is memory?
Martha Rust, an associate professor of English with a specialty in medieval literature and a background in nursing, and Suzanne England, a professor of social work with an interest in gerontology, develop a course on memory as a source "from which we draw both in acting as morally astute agents in the present and in envisioning new possibilities for the future." In approaching the subject, the course addresses such subsidiary questions and issues as, Where does memory exist in the brain, and what are its connections with sensory organs? Why do our memories change, and how accurate are they? What is the connection between memory and the self-and with language and story-telling? Can a preoccupation with memories forestall beneficial growth and change? and What events are best forgotten and how do we go about forgetting them? The course is divided into six units, the first three on memory in its "untrained and personal states" and the last three on the "training of memory, its uses and abuses." The first unit approaches childhood memories through readings in Augustine's Confessions, Eric Kandel's In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind, and Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich. The second unit, on the idea of memory, draws on David Bloch, Aristotle on Memory and Recollection; Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory; Sigmund Freud, "Screen Memories"; John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding; Plato, Theaetetus; William Wordsworth, "Tintern Abbey"; and W.G. Sebald, Vertigo. In the third section, on the science of memory, the class reads more from Kandel's book, studies Jamie Ward's The Student's Guide to Cognitive Neuroscience, and views Akira Kurosawa's film Rashomon. The fourth unit, on memory in art, draws on additional chapters from Augustine, Borges's "Funes the Memorious," Thomas Bradwardine's "On Acquiring a Trained Memory," and A. R. Luria's The Mind of a Mnemonist: A Little Book about a Vast Memory. The fifth section, on cultural memory, includes Italo Calvino's "World Memory," Primo Levi's The Drowned and the Saved, and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. In the final unit, on forgetting, the class utilizes Janna Quitney Anderson, "Does Google Make Us Stupid?"; Alice Munro, "The Bear Came Over the Mountain"; and Sarah Polley's film version of Munro's story. Professors Rust and England draw on the materials in the course bibliography to grow intellectually in such areas as cultural memory studies and the practice of memory in a variety of time periods; in addition, Professor England benefits from Professor Rust's nursing background and knowledge of cognitive neuroscience and Professor Rust benefits from Professor England's scholarly expertise. The course includes a website and an electronic discussion board to foster intellectual community.