The Story of the Stuff: Issues in Temporary Memorial Preservation

The Problem of Temporary Memorials

Temporary memorials help us to remember...to honor...to heal. But they also create a large recording of public grief that raises questions about what, if any of it, should be preserved.

Evolving alongside this mourning ritual are museum and institutional collections preserving the “stuff” of temporary memorials, though their appearance and discussion in the professional literature is limited, especially in the field of libraries and information sciences. Experts agree that the careful archival preservation of temporary memorial condolence materials is similarly a recent phenomenon dating back, at least in the United States, to the 1980s when the National Park Service began collecting “memorabilia” items left at the Vietnam War Memorial (Doss, 2010). The artifacts that compose the National Park Service’s collection were photographed and briefly examined in a catalog-style book in 1995 (Allen, 1995). 


EXERCISE: 

Explore the interactive timeline below to see some of the most significant moments surrounding temporary memorials in recent history. 





Have you witnessed any temporary memorials in your community? How were they similar or different from the memorials depicted in the timeline?




These expanding collection practices—especially those that rise to a scale and scope of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, which encompasses thousands of items now held in off-site storage facilities—raise a number of important questions for the curators of our cultural memory to consider. Among them are: For whom are these items being kept? What purpose does each archive serve? Does each have a future value and use? 

To explore these pertinent and timely questions, we will examine three modern instances of a large-scale outpouring of condolence materials, the resulting materials management of those objects, and what kind of collection, if any, was created to preserve these materials.

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