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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



recollections of the past written by participants in or contemporaries of certain events. Memoirs are based on the author’s personal experience, as interpreted in terms of his own point of view and the sociopolitical views of the time. The basic source of information for memoirs is the author’s memory of what he lived through, but in addition, various documentation, diaries, letters, the press, and other sources are sometimes used. Many memoirs are literary works of a special genre, to which autobiographies and travel notes also belong.

Some memoirs, such as J. J.Rousseau’s Confessions and A. I. Herzen’s My Past and Thoughts, are outstanding artistic works. Memoirs are often used as a means of political and ideological struggle, in which reactionary historical figures resort to distorting the truth (for example, O. von Bismarck’s Thoughts and Remembrances and S. lu. Witte’s Memoirs).

Memoirs are historical sources that reflect political and military history, cultural life, everyday life, and social mores. In historical scholarship their value depends on their specificity and on the degree to which they convey the author’s personal attitude toward the events in which he participated. However,the subjectivity and tendentiousness of memoirs complicates the work of the researcher.

Works similar to memoirs were written in antiquity (Xenophon’s Ana basis and Julius Caesar’s The Gallic Wars). There are a number of medieval works similar to memoirs—chiefly chronicles, biographies, and hagiographies containing notes on what the authors observed. Memoirs in their modern form emerged during the Renaissance, which recognized the historical importance of the human personality and individual experience. In the 18th through 20th centuries a large, heterogeneous, and wide-ranging memoir literature was produced, primarily by political, military, cultural, and scholarly figures.

In Russia memoirs as a literary genre flowered in the 18th century. Since the Great October Socialist Revolution, as a result of the democratization of culture and other spheres of public life, people from various strata of Soviet society have written memoirs. Many memoirs are devoted to the October Revolution of 1917 and the Civil War of 1918-20, the Great Patriotic War (1941-45), and other very important events in the history of the USSR.

Writing memoirs demands truthfulness, precision, and clarity of class evaluations. In the USSR a number of memoir series are being published, including Military Memoirs (Voennizdat), About Life and About Ourselves (Politizdat), and Literary Memoirs (Khudozhestvennaia Literatura Publishing House).


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Istoriia sovetskogo obshchestva v vospominaniiakh sovremennikov, vols. 1-2 (fascs. 1-2). Moscow, 1958-67.
Kardin, V. Segodnia o vcherashnem: Memuary i sovremennost’ Moscow, 1961.
Chernomorskii, M. N. Rabota nad memuarami pri izuchenii istorii KPSS, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1965.
Kurnosov, A. A. “Priemy vnutrennei kritiki memuarov.”In Istochnikovedenie: Teoreticheskie i metodicheskie problemy. Moscow, 1969.
Golubtsov, V. S. Memuary kak istochnikpo istorii sovetskogo obshchestva. Moscow, 1970.
Ginzburg, L. la. O psikhologicheskoi proze. Leningrad, 1971.
Istochnikovedenie istorii SSSR. Moscow, 1973.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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In this scholarly study of the phenomenal increase in the publication of memoirs over the past 10 years in North America, Rak (English, film studies, University of Alberta) looks at the memoir as a product and a part of mass culture.