Memory, History, and User Generated Museums
To put it most simply, history, according to the Oxford Dictionary is stated as, “A written narrative constituting a continuous chronological record of important or public events or of a particular trend, institution, or person’s life.” This, I feel, is what everyone thinks of when thinking of the definition of history. However, individual memory and communal memory are both quite different from the everyday definition of history, but each are their own form of history. Understanding that everyone has their own point of view on any one action or event is simple psychology. There will always be a different interpretation. This is the base for individual memory. For example, when Dr. Wolfram von Scheliha, a Research Fellow at the Center for European Studies at the University of Leipzig, spoke in class, he mentioned that there was a significant difference in individual memory when speaking of experiences during their stay in Soviet camps. Some peoples’ experiences were similar to others, and yet there were those who had experiences unlike any other. Then, when he expanded his thought, and moved to the reflection of the whole community, almost everyone’s basic experience was the same.
To give a personal example between history and individual memory, I’ll reflect on my experience during the attacks on our country on September 11th, 2001. I was nine years old and sitting in my classroom at Red Smith School, being taught about political science (go figure). All of a sudden, the principle came over the loud-speaker and said that the school was closing, and there would be no bus rides home. All parents were called and had to report to the school to pick up their children. All of the children, including myself, were extremely confused, as no adult was about to tell us that there were terrorists in our country. I gathered my things, found my younger sister, who was only five years old at the time, and we waited for my mother to come pick us up. We lived close enough to the school that Mom walked to come and get us. On our walk home, I noticed the large “fighter jets” flying over-head. I asked my mom then what was going on, and she said that she would explain it when we got home. Well, when I finally found out, being a nine-year old kid, I was more confused than when I didn’t know anything at all. The question everyone was asking themselves was also going through my head, “Why?”. My memory of that day ends with the gathering of my family, and all of the other families that lived on our cul-de-sac. We stood in the middle of the street at dusk and each held a lit red, white, or blue candle until they either nearly melted to our hands, or blew themselves out. I didn’t really understand the significance of what we were doing when it was going on, but Mom said we were praying for our country’s people and its strength. It was good enough for me.
Little did I know that this event was going to be in the history books that I was studying out of that very day. I’m very sure that there are many other personal versions of the history of that day, though the basic history of the event will always stay the same. When it comes to preserving the past, I feel that individuals and communities should play a rather important part. Even though my sister was alive for the event, she doesn’t remember the slightest thing about that day. I feel it is important that individuals like myself, and communities, even as small as the entirety of my cul-de-sac neighborhood, make sure that something as important as the 9/11 attack on our country is not forgotten, and that others like my sister, should learn and understand what happened that day. I feel similarly when it comes to all other aspects of history. Museums are an important part of preserving the past for others to learn from, and experience mentally. Though, with the incoming of a more user-friendly generation, I feel it would be a good idea to have a more interactive approach to teaching about the past, if only to gain ones’ attention.
In Letting Go?, parts of an excerpt entitled “Toward Reciprocity” written by Kathleen McLean made a lot of sense to me, and I agree with them whole-heartedly. “Let’s face it. We live in a world interconnected in ways unimaginable just a few short years ago…And people expect to be able to take more active roles in shaping their own learning activities, from co-designing the programs they attend to asking their own questions and contributing their own expertise and opinions.” She goes on to say, “We need to find ways to bring the museum’s expert knowledge into conversation with the people who attend our museums—people who bring with them their own expert knowledge…And we need to find new ways to create narratives in common, narratives that will change over time as the world around us changes.” This idea is exactly what I was trying to express earlier, creating ‘narratives’ that will be able to gain the relationship of those who come into a museum to observe and learn. Only this way will we be able to keep the history that is important to us alive.
Adair, Bill, Benjamin Filene, and Laura Koloski. Letting Go?: Sharing Historical Authority in a User-generated World. Philadelphia, PA: Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, 2011. Print.
NYC Skyline. Digital image. Pixabay. Http://openclipart.org/, n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. .
September 11th Firefighter Memorial. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. .