Mapping Memory: Myth, History, and Liminality in Harlem and the Bronx
The relationship between notions of ‘history’ and ‘myth’ is a familiar dilemma within the field of historiography. As this thesis will seek to demonstrate, myth – defined here as evaluative representations of the past to suit demands of the present – is virtually indistinguishable from history, insofar as both are constructed from the same raw materials: subjective remembrances. Through an examination of mythical representations of physical places, this thesis will present a model to explain how myth is constructed, thereby emphasising the intimate and problematic relationship between the aforementioned categories. In short, myth making occurs when memories travel through liminal space from one individual to the next, with said liminal points allowing for degradation and transmutation. The further along one is in the chain, the more one is dependent on myth. Through electing to focus on two such locales that have been of particular interest to me – Harlem during the jazz age and The Bronx during the origins of hip hop – I was able to adopt an auto-ethnographic perspective, gaining insight into the extent to which my understanding was dependent on a series of compounding representations. Further, these areas also draw attention to how such representation can broaden or localise, depending on the myth and the purpose of its invocation. In different contexts and different historical narratives, different areas within New York City have been subjected to the same process, which can account for the pervasive idea of ‘New York’ that continues to circulate.