March 23rd: Complications With Memorial Sites

Historical sites with memorial connotations are very complicated places for public history. On one hand, they are sites of memory, of emotion, and of education. On the other hand, they are tourist locations meant to entertain and fascinate visitors. New York’s 9/11 museum, for example, fits into both of these categories. The museum works as a memorial site for all those who died during the 9/11 attack; from the monument naming all those who died to the pictures and stories within the museum dedicated to those who died. In this way, it is an emotional memorial site for those affected by the 9/11 attack which shares the memory and teaches others about what happened. However, this museum can also be seen as more of a tourist site. The price of admission is $24 for an adult. This price jumps up to $42 for the guided tour. Whether museums should charge or work off of donations is a separate argument, but these prices certainly seem steep for such an important memorial site. This, along with the museum’s gift shop, complicates the importance of this place as a memorial site. The museum gift shop includes a number of tourist staples, including key chains, magnets, and water bottles, along with toys for kids and even collars for pets. In this way, the museum seems to profit off of the important memorial links of the site, which can be seen as problematic. Thus, while the site does work to share the emotions and memories associated with such an important memorial site, the museum can also be seen as trivializing the traumatic events associated with the site by catering to tourists. 

Places can have different meanings for different people. Some people are more deeply impacted emotionally by the 9/11 memorial museum while others may be there to learn or to sightsee as a tourist. Likewise, other memorial sites can have different meanings, such as the Alabama teen who had to defend her smiling selfie which was meant to be a tribute to her late father. Much like museums, memorial sites seem to have a sort of unwritten code on how to act. However, even more than museums, memorial sites have different meanings for different people, and so people have different feelings on the “proper” ways to act. Some attacked the Alabama teen for smiling and taking a selfie, while others offered her support and encouragement. However, although it was a different sort of memorial, the Auschwitz site still worked as a memorial site for this teen. How one should act at memorial sites get even more complicated when they are encouraged as tourist locations alongside memorial sites. 

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