Simon Sleight | Keynote: The history of ‘collective memory’: approaching the past; understanding the present

Watch Simon’s lecture on YouTube.

In this short lecture, I seek to offer a longer perspective on the concept of ‘collective memory’, to chart the interface between historians and the field of memory studies, and to explore a contemporary and real-world example of collective memory in action. Looking beyond and before the digital realm as the default domain for comprehending the construction of social meaning, I examine how group understandings of the past have long been advanced and edited by historians and the public alike. From this, a conceptual apparatus has emerged for tackling the ruptures and harmonies entailed by reflecting collectively. Turning to London, the talk is rounded out by focus in on the national Covid Memorial Wall on the Thames, a striking instance of the genesis, boundaries, maintenance and meaning of collective memory in both the analogue and digital worlds. 

Dr Simon Sleight is Reader in Urban History, Historical Youth Cultures and Australian History at King’s College London, where he teaches on these themes as well as overseeing the core undergraduate module on History & Memory. His most recent books are A Cultural History of Youth in the Modern Age (2023, co-edited with Kristine Alexander) and the textbook for teaching, History, Memory and Public Life: The Past in the Present (2018, co-edited with Anna Maerker and Adam Sutcliffe). He has also published among other topics on urban morphology, sustainable academia, street fashion, urban gangs, historical cartoons, street processions, museum depictions, and children’s experiences. Ongoing projects include work on living history museums and on the possibilities of ‘slow history’. He is particularly interested in understanding the lived experience of the past. Simon is also Co-Founding Director of the Children’s History Society and Deputy Director of the Menzies Australia Institute. On twitter @Slowhistorian