Reckoning with the Past: German and American Memorialization through Physical and Digital Sites

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2021-05

Authors

Hua, Amanda

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Abstract

In Germany and the United States, memorialization of the Holocaust and slavery have evolved differently over the past several decades. Monuments and memorials carve out a particular national identity and historical narrative in both countries, and memorial sites that were once sites of atrocity play an important role in these memorial landscapes. How do sites of atrocity become sites of memory? This thesis attempts to answer that question by closely examining a former concentration camp and a former plantation: the Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum in Oranienburg, Germany and the Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana. The first half addresses traditional memorialization through these memorial sites, tracing their development over time and their operation in the present day. Both sites are also contextualized, and their roles in the broader memory cultures of Germany and the United States are explored. The second half then turns to more contemporary conceptions of memorialization. The concept of digital network memory is introduced, and social media is examined as a possible form of counter-monument. This thesis then returns to the Sachsenhausen Memorial and the Whitney Plantation and considers the relationship between physical sites and digital memory and the role of visitors, who both consume memory and produce memory by “remediating” the information and content at these sites and giving them a second life on social media. Throughout this paper, the ideas of authenticity, agency, and mediation in memorialization are discussed.

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