Posts Tagged ‘Smithsonian’

Module C is about the REPRESENTATION of events, personalities and situations. The Smithsonian website, September 11: Bearing Witness to History, represents an event: the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

A different approach to selecting related material for this text is to choose an historical event–or situation, or personality–that has been represented in an interesting way in texts that include personal memory as well as documented history. I like multimodal texts for this module because they are rich in techniques.

The best way to go about this selection is to follow your own interests but here are some suggestions to get you started.

Event: The Apollo 11 Moon Landing 20 July, 1969

The first moonlanding (video)

Television was still a relatively new medium. Look at how it is used, consciously and deliberately, to represent this historic moment.

Apollo 11 Mission Report (declassified)

Focus on the cover page and the way in which NASA represents the mission objectives and its crew (page 91)

Satellite of Solitude (Article) by Buzz Aldrin

Beautiful article by Buzz Aldrin recounting his personal memories of his experiences in space.

Buzz Aldrin’s memoir. Beautifully written and a lovely combination of historical fact and personal recount.

 Event: The Atomic Bomb attack on Hiroshima August 4, 1945

An Unrecognized Loss (film)

This is a documentary film from the UN, representing life in Hiroshima before the dropping of the atomic bomb.

Hiroshima Peace Museum (website)

A very moving site with beautiful animations. This text would work well as a complement to the Smithsonian site.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki Remembered (website)

This site focuses on the historical facts of the attack but also includes personal accounts under the heading “Hibakush Stories”.

Although I always advise students to prepare more than one related text each module, any one of these texts would work by itself as they all explore the interplay between history and memory.

More ideas: significant historic personalities

  • Julius Caesar
  • Hatshepsut
  • Eric the Red
  • Elizabeth I
  • Albert Einstein

Significant historical situations

  • Cambodia’s Killing Fields
  • The Black Plague
  • The American Civil War
  • The Enlightenment
  • The Cuban Missile Crisis

Some resources to get you started:

Iconic Photos Blog

This site is particularly useful as many of the photos are connected to articles and news videos.


I know it’s shocking that a teacher is suggesting using wikipedia but it can be a great starting place. Once you’ve found the event, personality or situation you’re interested in, scroll immediately to the bottom of the page and start working through the links.


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As much as I enjoyed teaching both Birthday Letters and The Justice Game for Conflicting Perspectives, I have to confess that I found the Smithsonian site more interesting than either. A website is a rich and varied text to explore, the Smithsonian site doubly so as it resists providing the same reading path more than once so that each visit is a unique experience. And however much I loved the drama of the Plath/Hughes relationship as a teenager and however much the trials of Robertson’s career are seminal and important, September 11, 2001 is a day that has shaped the history of the 21st Century, my century, and a day that will live on in my memory.

There are a few different ways to approach the selection of related material for this text and module. The first, and easiest, is to choose texts that portray the same event: the attack on the World Trade Center. There are a number of interesting texts out there, here are a couple of suggestions:

Michael Moore’s vitriolic (and quite entertaining) rant against the Bush administration’s response to the attack on the World Trade Center. This documentary, like the website, contains different media and a mixture of historical and personal sources. Moore’s purpose in questioning official history and trying to make his own is very clear.

This beautiful book focuses on the idea of heroes, whose bravery was revealed during the events of September 11. Like the website, it tells the stories of real people but using a traditionally fictional form: the graphic novel.

This documentary is fascinating and deeply moving. The insights into the American psyche, particularly regarding the (photographic) representation of the fall (or jump). I have rarely had more interesting discussions in the classroom than I had after viewing this documentary.

There are also a large number of articles and essays about the event. This year is the ten year anniversary so there’s likely to be a proliferation of media responses coming out soon.

Part Two of this post will be published this week.

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Christopher Reid’ poetry collection A Scattering won both the Costa prize for poetry in 2009. It chronicles Reid’s experiences as he grieves for his wife. Reid is the master of the invisible poetic style; the techniques, while present, are not obvious, allowing the reader a clear view into the meaning. Here are some extracts from the poems with analytical notes relevant to the module.

Glib analogies!
Makeshift rhymes!
Please pardon the crimes
of your husband the poet,
as he mazes the pages
of his notebook, in pursuit
of some safe way out.

This is the final stanza of the first poem in the collection. This section is called, The Flowers of Crete. The poet is trying to capture his memories of his wife in words, in poetry, and is frustrated by the limitations of language. The self deprecating tone sets the mood for the rest of the collection. The use of the word “maze” is a classical allusion to the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. This makes a connection between Reid’s personal history and his memories, captured in poetry, and the larger history of Crete.

A Scattering

I expect you’ve seen the footage: elephants
finding the bones of one of their own kind
dropped by the wayside, picked clean by scavengers
and the sun, then untidily left there,
decide to do something about it.

In this, the title poem of the collection, Reid compares his grief with that of elephants, those creatures who proverbially never forget. Reid, like the elephants, is helpless in the face of his grief. All he can do is “scatter” his memories the way elephants scatter the bones of their ancestors.

The concreteness of the images and metaphors link Reid’s memories to the more evidence based discipline of history. Each memory is linked to an image, an object. Reid’s personal history is relatable because grief is something we all experience. His memories are captured in his poetry, from free verse to sonnets. Like the September 11 website, this collection is a memorial.

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Module C: The Smithsonian September 11 Website

The subtitle, “Bearing Witness to History” is interesting. It suggests, to me, that History is like a trial, where the facts need to be presented in evidence. It also suggests that History is something to be argued over and fought for; perhaps that historians are adversarial.This site certainly presents a particular view of one day in history, a view that is comfortable for us in the Western World. This day, according to the site, had its bad guys and its heroes and, in spite of the immensity of the losses, the ultimate victor is the American Spirit.

History is a story we tell ourselves about who we are.

CLICK: a black slip on sandal. I chose this image to the right of the screen because my mother wears shoes like those in summer.

The screen now presents me with four objects: a uniform, a missing person poster, a police helmet, some melted coins. All personal objects, all symbols. These tell me that people who died were from different backgrounds and that they had family and friends, just like me. Here, history is personalised.

CLICK: a portrait of a police officer.

Isaac Ho’oopi’i, a police officer at the pentagon. The picture was taken by a fashion photographer after the attacks to be included in a Heroes series in USA Today. It was donated to the Smithsonian by the photographer. This picture seems to be less personal than the objects on the previous page. It is posed and formal, different from the images of police officers and fireman heroically doing their jobs on the day. The story that goes with it is about the object, not the person.

The objects in this site are set out very much like a multidimensional museum: each object–clearly labeled with its provenance–placed carefully within the collection. This reminds me of a mneumonic device called the Roman Room, where individual memories are stored in objects in imagined but familiar rooms. This museum exhibit is a storeroom for collective as well as individual memories.

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