Objects and Memory: Making Sense of Catastrophe

Wed 3 2008

Why do people value objects? What is it about a piece of paper, an ID card, or a teddy bear that evokes powerful memories? How do deeply personal possessions create community and vitalize history?

Objects and Memory, a new documentary airing on Public Broadcasting System (PBS) explores the relationship of objects to the construction of historical narrative. (Consult local listings for broadcast schedules.) Visits to Ground Zero in New York City, the site of the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial help place these events in historical context.

Objects and Memory addresses the importance of history—what we need to remember from those who preceded us, what we wish to pass on to the future, and why we need to do so. It explores the notion of museums—why do we have them, how do things get there, who are the people who are behind the things that we see in the glass cases? What happens to us when we are in the presence of relics? Objects and Memory depicts the transformation of ordinary items into vital sources of connection.

In conjunction with the film, visit The September 11 Digital Archive, a project of George Mason University's Center for History and New Media. The Archive contains more than 150,000 digital items, a tally that includes more than 40,000 emails and other electronic communications, more than 40,000 firsthand stories, and more than 15,000 digital images. In September 2003, the Library of Congress accepted the Archive into its collections, an event that both ensured the Archive's long-term preservation and marked the library's first major digital acquisition.

About the Author

Lee Ann Ghajar is a digital history associate in Public Projects at CHNM and a PhD candidate in American history at George Mason University.