“Ancient Memory Systems: A Cross-cultural Comparison” presented by Diaz


Presentation Title:

  • Ancient Memory Systems: A Cross-cultural Comparison



  • Abstract

    Short Paper

    The paper is a cross-cultural comparison of two models of human memory, namely the Art of Memory practiced by the ancient Greeks, and ltoloca and Xiuhamatl. the memory systems of the Nahua/Aztec people of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.


    Neither physical, nor situated at any specific location, memory is somehow intimately associated with our ability to learn and to, therefore, process and understand reality. A selective filter, memory has been a co-participant in our journey through the ages. As we advanced from the prehistory, our tools no longer limited to survival utensils, we fashioned technologies to supplement and extend both our internal brain and memory system. The study of the technologies of ancient memory systems has recently become a topic of discussion among the theorists of electronic media. At the expense of ignoring other methods, the discussion and research has mostly focused on Ars Memoria, an ancient memory system derived from the art of rhetoric as it was practiced in ancient Greece. The idea of selecting and forming mental images of the things one desires to remember, and the subsequent storing of these in conceptual spaces, reflects the primacy that the ancient Greeks bestowed on the sense of sight. Yet our knowledge of myriad different memory techniques that form part of the heritage of humanity is proof that sight is not the sole purveyor of meaningful memories. The concept of memory as a tool that can be learned and skillfully deployed to carve mental and ideological spaces, has indeed a long history. That this history is one that cuts across cultural borders is the scope of this essay. In it I will present and compare historical descriptions pertaining two ancient, and radically different, models of human memory. The models that will be discussed are Ars Memoria and Itoloca and Xiuhamatl, the memory system of the Nahua/Aztec Indians of Mesoamerica. In the presentation I will focus not only on the engagement of the senses, but also on how the body is utilized throughout the process of information transfer. In addition, I will comment on the distinctions between mimetic and ritualistic communication exchange. As a conclusion, I will utilize Marshall McLuhan’s theory of ‘Ratio of the Senses’ to do a cross-cultural comparison between the different memory systems presented.

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