9/11 and historical memory; the Ken Burns effect on NPS visitation; teaching slavery to uncomfortable students; a lesson for Huckabee


Today, of course is all about 9/11. Here, some photojournalists visited the sites of some of the most iconic photos from 9/11, comparing then and now.

This writer wonders if 9/11 is already becoming distant memory for us. “Will it become like Pearl Harbor, when the big stories only get written on watershed anniversaries? Is the news footage that shocked us all as we watched the terror unfold live, on network television, destined to become our kids’ Zapruder film — sad, yes, but also distant and almost not real? Will the people falling from skyscrapers be like the emaciated bodies photographed after the liberation of Auschwitz, like the napalmed, naked Vietnamese girl — images that lose their power as they fade into history?”

Here another writer wonders if we will even remember the event at all: “It is a classic phenomenon that has happened again and again over years of war and trauma, historians say. In the midst of tragic events, people are sure that the world will never be the same again. But as years and generations pass, daily life goes back to normal for most people. Meanwhile, political and cultural influences gradually morph our memories of history for decades to come.” (One big quibble: I can’t agree that 9/11 didn’t in fact change our world in ways that we still experience and understand).

In that same vein, Nick Sacco has a short post musing on the fact that our K-12 students today have nothing to remember about the event and will have to experience it only as history, and through our own memories. (Today I asked my college classes if any of them have any discernible memories of the event since most of them were 4-6 years old at the time, and most of them did, although some were vague and confused. I suspect this will probably be the last year when I get students that have any clear memories of it at all). Meanwhile, Kevin Levin (who many of you know has a close personal connection to the event) has a thoughtful piece in The Atlantic drawing a connection between Civil War memory and the evolving nature of our 9/11 memories. (Don’t miss this one).

Speaking of the Civil War (and changing gears): There has been a lot of talk about Ken Burns’ Civil War series lately because of its 25th anniversary rebroadcast, AND, I suspect, some push back at Kevin Levin’s mildly critical posting on his Civil War Memory blog. There have been some good defenses of the series, but Emerging Civil War has posted one today by Chris Mackowski that I think sums it up best (especially because it contains a graph showing just exactly what the series did for battlefield park visitation).  “Ken Burns did for the Civil War in one eleven-hour film what thousands of history teachers across America could never do (despite some very good intentions and efforts): The Civil War made people pay attention to The Civil War.”

Anyone that teaches US history, (especially in the South) has experienced students who express discomfort or even annoyance at how much the subject requires a discussion of slavery and its impact in shaping this country in myriad ways. Today Edward E. Baptist has an essay in the New York Times Magazine about teaching slavery to reluctant learners, and he hits the nail on the head.

Lastly, many of your probably saw (and laughed about) Mike Huckabee’s recent statement in which he insisted that the Dred Scott ruling was “still the law of the land.” Of course this comes from an ignorance of the 14th amendment and basic US civics (not surprising that a supporter of Kim Davis seems to not know what the 14th amendment was). Just to set the record straight, the feisty Brooks Simpson has a little history lesson as only he can do it.

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