Communities of memory: Reflections on toga speeches as collective story making
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As conversations about university life are shared, specific events punctuate the
dialogue. The events evoke nostalgic reminiscing, akin to other coming-of-age
milestones like birthdays or first kisses. In the way Bond University students speak about their university experiences, one particular event—a public speaking assignment—stood out from its more wistful extracurricular counterparts. This research examines the nature of collective storymaking and why this particular assignment is embedded in a community of memory that exists, and is perpetuated, outside of the confines of class, semester or year. Traditionally, storytelling as a form of oral history was one of the only tools a community had to preserve and share heritage. It was a means of building a shared understanding and continuity of experience. Storytelling embeds emotion in events, and research suggests these oral traditions help create accurate, on-going narratives. Like oral traditions, contemporary storytelling also creates communities of memory. This study uses a thematic analysis approach to examine a particular community of memory, centred on a first-year university public speaking assignment. When students are put in a potentially high-risk speaking situation (outdoors, in the centre the university, dressed in togas), stories about the shared assessment are retold in a way that suggest the collective narrative both affects and reflects the event. There was a strong sense of community within the narratives told after the event—the collective story legitimises, and at times even overshadows, the individual experiences.
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