Embarking on a new project

…Well, that will teach me to make promises in the digital ether.

I’m now in Johannesburg, South Africa, working on the next portion of my research. I’m spending most of my time at the Apartheid Museum here in Jozi, learning more about the history of the site, how the curators and staff make decisions about its content, and what visitors think of the exhibits. I’ve been here for a little over two weeks so far, and I’ve learned a ton. (I’ve also gotten mostly used to driving on the left side of the road!)

Since my research consists of three case studies, I’ve been trying to learn more about the networks that museums create. For two of my sites, Holocaust memorialization was a huge influence, just as it was for the development of fields like memory and memorial studies in the academy. The creators of the Apartheid Museum were greatly inspired by a visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, while former Birmingham mayor David Vann initially got the idea for a civil rights museum by visiting Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to Holocaust victims. In thinking through these connections, I’m reminded of Michael Rothberg’s Multidirectional Memory (Stanford UP, 2009), which examines the ways that memories borrow from and interact with each other, specifically Holocaust memory and struggles for decolonization. I’ve thought about multidirectional memory quite a bit in the past few months, particularly since the museums I study cross-reference each other’s histories and historical contexts. The BCRI has a permanent human rights gallery that features the anti-apartheid struggle quite prominently, for example, and the Apartheid Museum worked with the Smithsonian Museum of American History to bring a special exhibit on Brown vs. Board of Education to South Africa.

(I do, I should note, sometimes find historical comparisons problematic, but that’s for another time and post.)

Once I started noticing these connections, I began to wonder about patterns of memorialization. When and where did these sites of memory begin appearing? I want to make some kind of argument about these patterns in my dissertation’s introduction, so I’ve decided to use Viewshare to visualize these geographical and historical relationships. I’ll be building on the data from the International Sites of Conscience (they have a neat map here that shows the locations of their 300 member sites–they’re by far the largest consortia of museums of “social issues”), as well as other sites that I find to fill in the gaps. I don’t expect to find every single memorial or museum, but I anticipate that I’ll have enough data points to make some conjectures about where, when, and why these kinds of sites of memory became so prominent on our landscapes.

I’m excited to begin this work, though it’ll take some time to aggregate everything. At any rate, it’ll give me a break from transcribing…

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