Friday, 9 September 2011

Memory Through Things (9/11)

Today is the tenth anniversary of the shocking "9/11" terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and the tragic loss of life of so many innocent people. My thoughts are with those who lost loved ones during the attacks and those who had the traumatic experience of dealing with its aftermath.

Many of us have our own memories and stories of these events, and images of what happened that day still surround us. We observe also the desire to keep material relics as a focus for memory and as a prompt for telling about them. The BBC has an interesting, and moving, article on six items which tell a story some of which were retrieved from the rubble the twin towers left behind. Beyond their immediate and emotive significance, these items invite reflection on issues relating to portable antiquities and memory. In particular they relate to the whole question of the narrativisation of artefacts which I feel is so central to the debate between collecting and archaeology. Another element of the discussion is to what extent the items selected (from the million or so tonnes of rubble on Staten Island) to reflect and commemorate these events now displayed in a New York Museum are cultural property, and in what way does this intercalate (now and in a longer-term future) with the ownership of some of these items by the individuals who died and their heirs?

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