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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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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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