Weekly readings: preservation and national memory

The permanence of objects is a common theme in this week’s readings. Glassberg, primarily concerned with issues historiographical and professional, notes the central importance of stuff (everything from war memorials to archives). In a violation of sociological semantics, Mires describes how Independence Hall transmits a zombified collective memory after the death of the participants. Doss discusses how (shades of Hurley) local ordinances drove the creation of public art, professionalizing public artists in the 1980s and spurring the creation of memorials; this was not merely a case wherein the existence of objects affected the creation of memory, but the creation of the objects themselves was especially conscious and non-spontaneous. In “The Conundrum of Ephemerality,” Crane* points out how museums interfere with the normal process of memory (e.g. forgetting). The writing of history (academic or otherwise) depends upon those artifacts, regardless of the context of their original creation; thus they both enable and distort the process of remembering. While the objects may be permanent, the significance assigned to them can change, adding a further layer of complication to teasing out what went on in the mind of past actors (to say nothing of those in the future, a presumed audience for consciously-created memory transmission devices).

* Voiced in my head by Angela Bassett, circa 1995.