Carnegie Mellon University

Emerging Memories: A Rhetorical History of Remembering after September 11, 2001

Author: Jessica Harrell
Degree: Ph.D. in Rhetoric, Carnegie Mellon University, 2017

Events like September 11 create ruptures with the past, leading to the construction of public memory sites to capture the moment of transformation. While many scholars focus on official, more stable memorials and ask questions about the impact of these sites on present understanding, these studies undervalue the role of various participants and artifacts that emerge over time as they reflect on the past. My work suggests that understanding public remembering, related memory practices, and the more static objects of memory associated with 9/11—like the memorials in New York City and Washington, D.C.—demands a comprehensive analysis of the development of remembering over time. Unlike any other study to date, this study takes a comprehensive look at the evolving September 11 public memory landscape and considers how remembering 9/11 has developed over time by compiling a chronological and systematic rhetorical history of memory artifacts. Through this study, I illustrate how memory practices and the narratives we use to describe past events emerge in commemorative moments and involve participants at both local and official levels who collaboratively enact public remembering. To do so, I locate major shifts in the construction of shared narratives about this event, analyze individual rememberers’ accounts of the past, and examine the interplay between participants at both official and local levels. I begin with the earliest reports in newspaper stories from September 12, 2001 before taking up oral history collections and the personal narratives shared in these volumes. I then examine how the Park51 controversy complicates and reveals underlying assumptions related to ongoing memory practices. Finally, I investigate how official memorial sites – including the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in NYC, the Pentagon Memorial in Washington, D.C., and the Flight 93 Memorial outside Shanksville, PA – construct an official account of September 11. Ultimately, I argue that considering moments of remembering over time, in addition to memorials and museums, is critical to understanding the development of shared stories over time and the missed opportunities that could clarify memory practices and enhance how we respond to the past.