Memorials and Popular Memory Special Series

The past four years have highlighted the influence of memorials and popular memory in American culture. From the toppling of Confederate statues to the decolonisation of school curricula, many Americans have fought to establish a more inclusive and nuanced memorial landscape. This series illustrates how widely “memory” is both interpreted and engrained in American life, as it manifests in physical memorials, film, novels, to name a few.

To kick off the series, Dr Catherine Bateson explores memorials to Irish American Civil War Veterans and the (often) performative nature of commemorating marginalised groups.

We then delve into an extremely pertinent theme: the memory of slavery and racial violence against Black Americans. Isabel Kalous analyses Ta-Nehisi Coates’s novel, The Water Dancer as a representation of slave memory. Shona Thompson then takes a different approach to memories of racial violence by analysing the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the first American memorial to lynching victims.

In our second week, we move on to memory of the Second World War and the Cold War Period. Dr Mattias Eken writes on a proposed exhibition to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the controversy that prohibited its opening. Then, Samuel Taylor analyses Oliver Stone’s 1991 film JFK as a memorial to the President and as a representation of a generation’s veneration of Kennedy.

Then, moving into the 20th century, Jay Jolles interprets the jazz funeral as a way for New Orleanians to remember those lost in Hurricane Katrina and a way to heal from the tragedy.

Our final two essays delve further into the relationship between memorials and activism. Jodie Childers writes about the toppling of Thorfinnur, a Viking statue that has been co-opted by white nationalist groups. To conclude our series, Oline Eaton analyses the 2020 memorial fence at Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., and situates the “do it yourself” memorial within a tradition of informal trauma memorials.

— Anne Stokes

About Anne Stokes

Anne is a Graduate Teaching Assistant and PhD student at the University of Manchester, researching memorial sites devoted to the American civil rights and black power movements. Anne is also tutor with the Brilliant Club Scholars Programme and an editor of the University of Manchester's student run academic journal, Encounters: Politics, Society, and Culture in the Past.
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