Is the memoir trust worthy?

I  recently met with members of the history department at the University of Washington, professors who are interested in the Cold War. One, Professor Elena Campbell, born and raised in Russia’s closed military city where their nuclear submarines were manufactured, has memories of the Space Bridge contact between KING 5 TV and Glastelradio in 1985. She watched with the fascination of a young girl and worried that her city was the primary target of our NIKE missiles. Dr. Campbell is interested in oral history as one major source for her research and writing.

Our conversation turned to how much the historian can rely on oral history or written memoir for assembling the factual content of written history. These professors teach their students to beware of assuming a memoirist has the historic “truth” in their pages.

Professor Eric Johnson followed up on our conversation by sending me two articles that analyzed the problem of taking memoir as history. The first, and you can read it by clicking on this link. hudgins_autobiographers_lies-1, is a scrutiny by Andrew Hudgins of his own memoir, The Glass Hammer: A Southern Childhood. His article, printed in The American Scholar in 1996, is titled An Autobiographer’s Lies.

I commend it to you as you contemplate memoir. The byline of my blog comes from Ernest Hemmingway who said about his last work, the memoir of his early years in Paris The Moveable Feast, “all memoir is fiction”.  My Life as Fiction. The truth as best I can remember, yes. But…..

Enjoy, Betsy

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