In this article, we first outline a minimalist approach to the organization of autobiographical memory called transition theory. This theory assumes that the content and organization of autobiographical memory mirror the structure of experience and reflect the operation of basic memory processes. Thus, this approach rests on an analysis of the environment that emphasizes repetition, co-occurrence, change, and distinctiveness. We then report a study that tested a set of predictions derived from transition theory. The predictions concerned both the temporal distribution of memorable personal events and the use of public events and historical periods to date those events. To test these predictions, we collected word-cued memories, event-dating protocols, and historical relatedness ratings from 2 groups of Bosnians; on average, people in the younger group were in their early 40s at the outset of the Siege of Sarajevo (1992); those in the older group were in their mid-50s when they experienced this collective transition. As predicted, participants in both groups produced a robust living-in-history effect, often (∼25%) referring to the civil war or the Siege of Sarajevo when dating event memories. They also displayed an upheaval bump, recalling more events from the war years than from prewar and postwar years, and a reminiscence bump, recalling more events from late adolescence and early adulthood than from earlier or later periods. Finally, this study demonstrated, for the first time, the existence of a before/after effect. Specifically, participants often mentioned the war when dating historically unrelated events for the prewar and postwar years. We conclude by considering extensions of transition theory and the significance of our findings for existing models of autobiographical memory.

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