James Wertsch

Director Emeritus of the McDonnell International Scholars Academy
Professor of Sociocultural Anthropology
Professor of Global Studies
David R. Francis Distinguished Professor
PhD, University of Chicago
research interests:
  • Psychological Anthropology
  • National Narratives and Memory
  • Former Soviet Union
    View All People

    contact info:

    mailing address:

    • Washington University
    • CB 1173
    • One Brookings Drive
    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
    image of book cover

    Wertsch is the director emeritus of the McDonnell International Scholars Academy. A professor of sociocultural anthropology, Wertsch’s topics of study are national narratives and memory, collective memory and identity, especially in Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union, as well as in the United States.

    He has particular interests in how these issues play out in Russia, the South Caucasus, and Estonia, but his research is also motivated by a broader set of concerns about the nature of collective memory in general. In previous writings he has drawn on the ideas of L.S. Vygotsky, M.M. Bakhtin, and others in order to examine problems of language and thought from a sociocultural perspective.

    Professor Wetsch is currently working on several projects in the South Caucasus, especially the Republic of Georgia. This includes collaborating with colleagues on efforts to understand the emergence of civil society, and democracy in this region. Of particular interest for him is how schools and other institutions are harnessed to create and maintain official collective memory.

    How Nations Remember: A Narrative Approach

    How Nations Remember: A Narrative Approach

    How Nations Remember draws on multiple disciplines in the humanities and social sciences to examine how a nation's account of the past shapes its actions in the present. National memory can underwrite noble aspirations, but the volume focuses largely on how it contributes to the negative tendencies of nationalism that give rise to confrontation. Narratives are taken as units of analysis for examining the psychological and cultural dimensions of remembering particular events and also for understanding the schematic codes and mental habits that underlie national memory more generally. In this account, narratives are approached as tools that shape the views of members of national communities to such an extent that they serve as co-authors of what people say and think. Drawing on illustrations from Russia, China, Georgia, the United States, and elsewhere, the book examines how "narrative templates," "narrative dialogism," and "privileged event narratives" shape nations' views of themselves and their relations with others. The volume concludes with a list of ways to manage the disputes that pit one national community against another.