The project that I have been working on for the past two terms focuses on the commemoration of tragedy. This is an important topic in Public History, which is the presentation of history outside the classroom in the form of monuments, memorials, museums, and movies. Commemorations of tragedies raise numerous issues, among them how to deal with national guilt, the role of a redemptive narrative, how much influence families and survivors should have, and how to be certain that a memorial does not do all the remembering for us, leading us, as historian Edward Linenthal warned, to "abdicate our own sense of continued engagement with ...questions about human nature, questions about how human beings can do what they do."
To explore these various questions, I have chosen to research the commemoration of three tragedies. The first tragedy I will be looking at is the Irish Famine in the mid-1800s. The potato blight caused more than one million deaths in Ireland, and a giant surge of emigration of another million. While the Famine occurred more than 150 years ago, its commemoration is recent and interacts with current world issues, attempting to ensure a similar tragedy doesn’t happen again. The second tragedy I look at is the Holocaust. How do we remember the Holocaust today and what lessons can we learn from it? Lastly, I will be looking at a more recent tragedy, 9/11. As the biggest terrorist attack on American soil, 9/11 changed how we look at the world presently. How do we interact with controversial subjects while still managing to honor those who perished? I will be exploring all these issues in relation to tragedy and how we remember and present it to the public.