A great deal of research has attempted to clarify the nature and mechanisms underlying memory in individuals, and there is an increasing amount of work concerning collective remembering by societies and cultures. However, there have been few attempts to bridge the gap between these two levels of analysis, and the present volume represents a welcome step in that direction. There are, of course, many possible ways to try to bridge the divide between individual and collective memory. In the present chapter, we adopt an approach that reflects our backgrounds as researchers in the area of individual memory: we focus on a broad concept that has important implications for how we think about individual memory and that, we suggest, might also be relevant to the understanding of collective memory.
We refer to this concept as the specificity of memory: the extent to which, and sense in which, an individual's memory is based on retention of specific features of a past experience, or reflects the operation of specialized, highly specific memory processes. In some situations, memory is highly specific, and may include the precise details of a previous experience; in other situations, memory may be much more generic, including retention of only the general sense or gist of what happened. For example, when asked about last year's summer vacation, we may be able to recall in detail the exact meal we ate at a favorite restaurant, where we sat, who else was present, what the room looked like, and how we felt about the food we ate.