"Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?" (Shoutout to Kat, Jess, and Jenna - I've gotten so bored I've listened to the Hamilton soundtrack)
Well, long time, no blog. I fully intended to write more posts on here this semester, but everything got very busy, very quickly and along with many other things in my life, this was neglected.
But now we're living in strange times (shoutout to COVID-19 for shifting the rest of the semester online), and strange times call for strange and alternative deliveries of in-class discussion of assigned readings.
This week's class was to focus on war, peace, and commemoration, and honestly I can't think of a more timely topic. Some of the questions posed before reading include "are we celebrating war or peace? the living or the dead? can history be healing?". All of these are poignant questions at any time, but moreso now. World leaders have called this a "war" against the virus, and I'd like to think that decades from now, historians are going to be looking back, doing some sort of digital archaeology on our tweets and instagram posts, and trying to figure out how to commemorate, educate, and communicate what exactly happened here.
Anyway, onto the readings.
"Should We Display the Dead?" in Museum & Society immediately brought back memories of being 8 years old, visiting the then-named Canadian Museum of Civilization, and seeing the "bog people" exhibit (not entirely sure if it's the exact same one mentioned in the article because it was 17ish years ago ((YIKES)), but similar concept. Bodies preserved from the peat bogs). I was both intrigued and terrified, and I have a vivid image of preserved bodies underneath glass. A more recent experience with something in a similar vein was visiting the Body Worlds RX exhibit at Science North in spring of 2019. The exhibit featured plastinated bodies that were either medical anomalies, or had had some kind of work done to them while they were alive (think hearts with stents or pacemakers, or knee replacements). Before you even walk into the main part of the exhibition, you're met with a screen that really drives home that these bodies were once living people, and that it's important that we treat them with the respect we would the living. There's a certain degree to which I think displaying the dead is okay, but some circumstances can be considered wholly insensitive.
When commemorating difficult histories (ie. concentration camps, 9/11), it's important to do so with as much sensitivity involved as possible. Places like Auschwitz or other concentration camps are an important part of global history, and leaving these sites open to the public can allow people to come to terms with tragedy, and for some people it might make it seem more "real". It's easy to dismiss things as "in the past" when it hasn't happened within your lifetime or within recent memory for a lot of younger folks, when in reality it wasn't all that long ago. The Auschwitz selfie girl, and the World Trade Center museum gift shop debacle speak a lot to the insensitivity of some people, but a lot of that can often be chalked up to ignorance, or people dealing with trauma in different ways. You can go through the same thing as someone and be equally as traumatized, but people process trauma differently. An example of this is a connection to the residential school system. Some of the survivors I have worked with in the past will not even enter certain parts of the school building, but some will go in and happily enter and discuss what their experience was. While it may be difficult to deal with, commemorating difficult histories so they are not forgotten is an important act that must be done.
"What is history, but a fable agreed upon?" While the quote "history is written by the victors" has been mis-attributed to many people over the years, it's validity still stands. If we allow the 'winners' of conflict to tell the story and ignore that of the victims or losers, we'll never know the whole story. It is important to commemorate things from the point of view of the marginalized, and give a voice to them as well.