Project Autobiographical Memory in Interdisciplinary Perspective
Principal investigators: Prof. Dr. Harald Welzer, Prof. Dr. Hans J. Markowitsch
Funded by the Volkswagen Foundation
Questions on memory in general and the individual acts of remembering have gained considerable attention in the last 20 years in both the humanities and the natural sciences. This is particularly true for interest in autobiographical memory, which guarantees the essential ability, at least to highly individualized societies, of maintaining both a coherent awareness of one's self over time as well as a consistent feeling of identity. This ability in turn makes it possible to develop a personal orientation towards future events on the basis of past and present experiences, and then to relate them to and synchronize them with institutional and social settings.
It is, however, apparent that the different approaches to the topic of autobiographical memory from various fields of research, such as the social, cultural and biological, have been evolving rather independently of one another, although their theoretical models and concepts are interrelated to such a high degree as to make mutual references to other work basically a matter of course, especially concerning the fact that memory is intrinsically such an all-encompassing, global behaviour.
While work in the humanities and the social sciences often ignores the results of more recent neuroscientific research on memory, especially the classification of different memory systems and the concept of “emotional memory”, the traditional neuroscientific approach has failed to consider the social malleability of individual memories and their associated emotions, and the concept of an autobiographical memory system is still rather undifferentiated.
Thus, any attempt to explicitly confront these different disciplines and their various methodologies and results with each other would most probably improve their mutual understanding of the fundamental prerequisites, the modalities and the functions of autobiographical memory, as well as support the development of innovative methods for studying autobiographical memory.
The aim of the project is to elaborate a model of the autobiographical memory, integrating findings on the brain development, age-specific memory competences and social interaction. It is based on broad empirical research, leading to a profound concept of autobiographical memory, which could be fruitful for neurophysics and the humanities.