Title: Individuals’ Use of Memorials to Members of Marginalized Communities During Times of Renegotiation of National Public Memory
Presentation Type: Oral Presentation
Larissa Hugentobler, University of Zurich, Switzerland
While the discussion about inclusive US American public memory which includes all individuals who have contributed to the success of the nation has arrived in popular discourse and even resulted in statues of racist figures being torn down, the discussion around the absence of memorials to members of marginalized communities is still lacking. From a theoretical standpoint, it is clear that the memorial landscape must reflect the contributions by all individuals if it strives to be truly representative and honor all communities equally. However, we also need to know what the role of this centuries-old tradition of immortalizing people as statues is in this digital age. In this study, I combine fieldwork in Washington, D.C. including observations at two memorial sites to Dr. Martin Luther King Junior and interviews with 57 visitors on site and 10 of them after their visit. I combine these findings with results from my online ethnography where I analyze 1340 Instagram posts from both memorials and interview 27 posters. This combination allows me to draw conclusions about the use of the memorials in our digital world: What are people doing and feeling on site and what are they doing online? Overall, it can be said that memorials still have their original function, and their significance as physical markers has increased in the digital age. Individuals engage with it not to contribute to the renegotiation of public memory but to increase the site’s popularity which is in line with the traditional purpose of the memorial.
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