Appropriation of Memory

This week’s readings focus on the role of politics in commemorating the past. Emily and Catriona also raised the question of tourism in politicization and commercialization of history. What connects all this week’s readings is the idea that history, or sites of memory to be specific, can be constructed or “used” for political or even commercial gains. Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shizo Abe visited the memorial sites at Hiroshima and Pearl Harbor with an effort to face and commemorate the past, but more importantly to enhance the U.S.-Japan alliance because of the threat of “an increasingly aggressive China.” Sites of memory, especially those dark sites of death, violence, and atrocity, are supposed to commemorate the past loss first, and then teach and then other purposes of remembering, such as for political goals. These appropriation of historical sites and national memories for pragmatic purposes are problematic and controversial, just as Lincoln’s connection to racial justice. The biggest irony lies in the African American school girl’s answer to the question “who freed the slaves” –“Martin Luther King”—just in front of Lincoln’s statue. And the irony also lies in African American’s rejection of Lincoln in the late 1960s, an icon they themselves have constructed tactically for racial justice but abandoned for its uselessness later. I wonder, what are historians, curators and other professionals supposed to do in these appropriation of memories and sites of memories, especially when the use of national memory for political goals seemed positive and progressive?

Today is International Women’s Day. Protests, activism and strikes across the globe are going on right now for the ongoing fight for equality. Since we have talked about the sites of memory in the past few weeks and the Martin Luther King’s Day, I believe the discussion of “Dates of Memory” would also be interesting in light of political goals and tourism.

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