Fragility and permanence: civic 9/11 memorials and the creation of American historical narrative

The events of September 11, 2001 caused emotional trauma across the United States and elicited myriad reactions within the Nation that effected the lives of every American to some degree. In the months and years following the attacks, there was an enthusiastic drive to memorialize the lives that were lost on that day, as well as to acknowledge the actions of the first responders who died in the line of duty. Many small, civic memorials now dot the Country and educate the public about the events and significance of 9/11. This thesis considers civic 9/11 memorials from a museological perspective and aims to determine what initiated the civic memorialization process, how World Trade Center artifacts are used in the memorials, and what the installations contribute to the collective understanding of the attacks. In formant interviews and site surveys were used to gather data on the design and construction process of the memorials, as well as the various objects and words featured at each location. The influence of object curation and organization on the creation of collective historical memory is explored, as well as the significance of social and material capital in facilitating access to public expression. Additionally, this study looks at what is missing from the memorial sites; what parts of the 9/11 story are left out and how these omissions contribute to the particular historical message that memorial visitors encounter. This study observes that some civic 9/11 memorials, through the careful curation of objects and ideas, as well as the application of social and material capital, offer a framing of 9/11 which encourages a historically disconnected understanding of the event and glosses over some of the more unflattering aspects of the Nation’s response to the tragedy.