A couple of summers ago I attended a Dissertation Bootcamp hosted by Carnegie Mellon's Global Communication Center. I hadn't thought too much about the abstracts we wrote during the weeklong workshop until recently, when I began putting together descriptions of my work, including the ones on this site. A short abstract is included under the main site "Research" tab, but the longer one, freshly updated in light of expanding research for the project (nearly completed!) is ready:
A Rhetorical History of Remembering after September 11, 2001
Significant national events, like September 11, create ruptures between the common knowledge of the past and a new altered future. Because of such ruptures, remembering these events is an important activity both for historical preservation and national healing. Rhetorical scholars of public memory most often look to national memorials – like the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in NYC. However, I argue that these national memorials are built through a process of remembering that begins in the immediate aftermath of significant events and continues to evolve even as more official commemorative practices and memorials are put into place. In my dissertation, I investigate the process of collectively remembering September 11.
I consider how remembering September 11, 2001 has developed over time by compiling a comprehensive, chronological, and systematic rhetorical history of 9/11, by analyzing the language associated with memory practices enacted by rememberers through this history, by locating major shifts in the process of constructing these practices, and by examining the interplay between participants at both official and local levels. In addition to proposing a more process-oriented, developmental approach to rhetorical studies of remembering, my work assembles a comprehensive chronological record and rhetorical analysis of September 11 memory artifacts unlike anything collected to date.
I primarily focus on 4 activities in the process of remembering September 11. For the first, I reconstruct the earliest reports of September 11 produced in newspapers published on September 12, 2001. These early accounts established some of the first sequences of relevant events. These newspapers also reminded readers that September 11 was a shared experience by reporting community level activities as responses to events in NY, D.C., and Pennsylvania. The second chapter examines oral history projects collected in the months and years following the events. By examining story collections I argue individuals’ accounts are a critical point of remembering in the process of constructing public memory; I also argue that how stories are curated plays an important role in what gets shared, and my analysis of these collections reveals missed opportunities to redirect some of the 9/11 narrative toward compassion instead of prioritizing loss and grief.
In the third chapter, I examine the controversy surrounding plans for Park51, an Islamic community center that many have called the Ground Zero Mosque. As memorials to the tragedy of September 11 were being constructed nearby, the controversy that emerged in response to Park51 illuminated underlying disagreements over how to understand what happened, how to classify perpetrators and victims, and how to characterize and bound off sacred space. I argue here that dissociations reveal underlying disagreements about religious freedom after 9/11. Finally, I investigate the role of stable memorial artifacts including the September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York City, the Pentagon Memorial, and the Flight 93 Memorial.
My project primarily investigates how these narratives told about the past shift at different phases of remembering, strategically re-enacting the same sequence of events in meaningful and transformative ways. Ultimately, I argue that considering the process of remembering in addition to stable sites of memory is critical to understanding the development of shared stories and the missed opportunities that could clarify memory practices and enhance how we respond to the past.