Memory and History at Ground Zero
There is a wonderful article in yesterday’s New York Times on the challenges of commemorating and interpreting the tragedy of 9-11 at “Ground Zero” in Manhattan. Back in January I wrote on some of the parallels between 9-11 and Civil War memory at the Atlantic. As someone interested in public history and interpretation and as a family member of a 9-11 victim I certainly appreciate the competing interests and emotional investment that animate many in this debate.
- How should the terrorists be interpreted in the museum?
- What should be done with the remains of 9-11 victims and how should they be memorialized?
- How much influence should 9-11 families have on interpretation?
- What artifacts should be included in the museum?
- How should the politics of 9-11 be handled, including subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?
There are no easy answers nor should there be at this stage. I was struck by the issue of how to handle the most emotionally sensitive materials such as voice recordings and images. The designers of the museum have sectioned off certain exhibits and made it possible for visitors to exit at certain points if the experience becomes too much. As someone who is personally invested in this story I can appreciate the steps taken here, but the historian in me is concerned.
If we are going this far to protect visitors from certain sights and sounds than perhaps it is too soon to even consider a museum. Perhaps the site should remain a memorial for the near future and perhaps the museum would have been better placed in NYC, but away from Ground Zero. The people in charge of interpreting the site may have achieved a certain level of detachment, but the general public may still be far behind.
Just a few thoughts.