Newspaper obituaries are carriers of collective memory, and researchers have found them to be a valuable source for discerning a society’s values. But obituaries are also about individuals, whose lives and identities they record—and for many people, they represent a unique instance in which their life story is told by a third party. In this article, Taussig considers how collective memory of major public events is woven into the life stories told in obituaries by comparing recent obituaries of veterans of World War II and the Vietnam War. His findings suggest four interrelated ways that collective memory shapes these narratives: selection of defining life experiences, selection and emphasis of specific events and experiences, use of historical detail, and provision of cultural scripts. By influencing these components of the life stories told in obituaries, collective memory both occupies the narratives of individual veterans and maintains itself over time.
Published in Volume 10, Issue 4, pages 459-473