The future orientation of culture and the memory of the past in the making of history

Elżbieta Hałas


The article describes the semiotic approach developed by Boris Uspenskij to study the historical process. Uspenskij’s semiotics of history is integrally bound with the Tartu-Moscow School’s programme of cultural semiotics and is rooted in the fundamental premises of that programme, which he helped to shape. These premises contain a complex ontology of culture, encompassing three levels: cultural memory, sets of cultural texts, and semiotic systems, which model both the image of the world and programmes of action. Uspenskij’s analytical model of semiotics of history highlights the pragmatic aspect of the process of historical communication: the agency of its participants as carriers of culture and sign users. This article presents the role of reflexivity in the historical process, associated with reconstruction of the meaning of the past and prospective shaping of the future. Making history means constantly renewing the narrative about past events, which determines the future course of history in the present. Uspenskij presents opposite cultural tendencies in the historical process, associated with different types of semiosis, as symbolic conflicts. The article shows the role of symbolism and symbolic politics in the processes of making history in the model of semiotics of history. This model makes it possible to link together research on cultural memory, time, communicative action and symbolism.


Boris Uspenskij; semiotics of history; cultural memory; pragmatics; symbolic politics

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SIGN SYSTEMS STUDIES. ISSN 1406-4243 (print), 1736-7409 (online). E-mail: Postal address: Sign Systems Studies, Dept. of Semiotics, University of Tartu, Jakobi St. 2, 51014 Tartu, Estonia