University of Notre Dame

Memorial Mania: History, Memory, and Feeling in Contemporary America

Course Number: AMST 13184-2
Instructor: Erika Doss

Why do we make memorials in America today—and why do we make so many of them? In recent decades, thousands of new memorials to executed witches, enslaved Africans, victims of terrorism, victims of lynching, and murdered teenagers have materialized in the American landscape, along with those that pay tribute to civil rights, cancer survivors, organ donors, U.S. soldiers, sports figures, and the end of communism. Equally ubiquitous are temporary memorials: offerings of flowers, candles, balloons, and teddy bears left at sites of tragic and traumatic death, like Columbine High School in 1999, the World Trade Center in 2001, and the Oakland warehouse fire in 2016.

Looking at a vast range of both permanent and temporary memorials—from statues and monuments to parks, public squares, cemeteries, roadside shrines, public ceremonies, and moments of silence—this USEM examines how and why memorials are made in America today, including the audiences and purposes they serve and the feelings they articulate and inspire. Exploring the key words “memorial,” “history,” “memory,” and “America,” our seminar asks: What do memory and history mean in America today? What is driving America’s “memorial mania” and who and what is remembered? What sorts of feelings, or emotions, shape memorial making in America today? What do memorials tell us about how Americans feel about themselves as Americans, and about America?
Multiple sources are at our disposal in the scholarly study of memorial mania. Our seminar will analyze a wide range of primary and secondary texts as well as sources in film, fiction, art, and architecture. We will incorporate a number of “Learning Beyond the Classroom” activities, including fieldtrips to local and regional memorials. Course projects will include imagining future memorials for Notre Dame.

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November 09 Majors Night