Friday, September 10, 2010

MEMORY AND HISTORY ON 9/11

Below are a couple videos from the website of the National 9/11 Memorial & Museum. These are part of a webcast series of interviews called "Exploring 9/11: The World Before and After," in which the Memorial's senior program adviser Clifford Chanin talks with historians, theologians, sociologists and others about topics related to 9/11.  


Above is Brigitte Sion, an assistant professor of religious studies at New York University. I've highlighted chapter 5 of the interview, in which she talks about how memorials evoke an event from the past, but also say something about the time the memorial was created. Let me just add something she says in chapter 7 of her interview: “The memorial is not a closure. It is a closure in some ways for ... some form of mourning. But it is not a closure for remembrance. We shouldn’t take memorials as sites that relieve us from the burden of remembering, even though it’s tempting. But really, we should keep a space within a memorial, a space that remains open for additional names, for additional data, for additional details about the context, and additional details that will help us, maybe, answer the question why.”


And now here's David Blight, a professor of American history at Yale University. I've highlighted chapter 7, in which he talks about national historical narratives.


Lastly, another (long) quote from chapter 1 of David Blight's interview, in which he
talks about the difference between history and memory. “When we use the term history, generally, we tend to mean what historians actually do. The craft of writing history, or of presenting history perhaps in a museum. It’s the work of the historian or the curator... It is supposed to be guided by research tools, standards of evidence, and so forth. And therefore it can be done by basically anybody. Anyone can claim I’m a historian if they can go to the local library and do research.  When we use the term memory, though, we don’t necessary mean research at all. We mean the stories passed on in a family, in a community, perhaps in an entire nation... They’re the stories, or even the deep myths that we grow up with, they’re the encoded stories that tell us who we are, tell us what our identity is, tell us the narrative we want to live within.  And memory tends to be more absolute, often more sacred, it tends to get linked to notions of heritage, what you’ve inherited from family, or from community, or from nation. And often these stories are not necessarily verifiable at all, they’re not based on any kind of formal research or even pedagogy, they’re what one’s grandparents taught you or told you. And in that sense, memory is larger, it’s much more powerful than what we could call history. There is much more remembered past, if we think about it, out among the populace of any society, however free it is in its institutions or even in the practice of free speech. There’s far far more memory practiced in communities than there is formal history.” 

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