Review Essay: The Politics of Memorialization and War

The Politics of Memorialization and War

The politics of memorialization is a topic that anthropologists (political, legal, or otherwise) are likely to consider important, but are less likely to view as urgent. This could be changing. A “late-breaking session” at the 2017 American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, “In Whose Honor? On Monuments, Public Spaces, Historical Narratives, and Memory,” is a case in point. Organized by museum anthropologist Diana Marsh, the roundtable discussion responded to recent controversies involving Confederate monuments in the United States. The most infamous of these clashes had been the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which drew white supremacists from around the nation to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. The event erupted in violence, resulting in the death of a peaceful counter-protester, Heather Heyer. President Donald Trump’s statement that the incident was a display of “hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides” was symptomatic of increased tolerance for explicitly racist and xenophobic positions in U.S. political discourse. His subsequent provocation, “Are we gonna take down statues to George Washington? Thomas Jefferson?” was condemned for its slippery-slope reasoning, but also served as a reminder that who remembers and how communities remember is nearly always enmeshed in processes anthropologists readily identify as political — in this case, the making and remaking of national ancestors and the mobilization of right-wing populist sentiments seem particularly relevant.

At the well-attended “In Whose Honor?” session, anthropologists reflected on a host of issues that renewed conflict over Civil War monuments and memorials has brought to the forefront. What is to be done with such sites? Does the conservation of Confederate monuments provide an opportunity to rethink notions of “community” and the role of anthropologists as “stewards” of the past? What about the racist, early 20th century context of many of these sites’ construction? Or the considerable number of Americans who oppose their removal in the present? How might anthropology contribute to the repurposing of Confederate monuments to tell different stories about the past, and what would be the limitations of such efforts? To echo the thoughts of one attendee, what does the defender of (recontextualized) memorials say to the African-American who seeks justice in a courthouse that has a statue honoring individuals who fought a war to protect the institution of slavery?

Three recent books contribute to our understanding of the politics of memorialization and war, offering valuable insights for anthropologists who study commemorative practices in multicultural and transnational settings as well as for scholars seeking to move beyond common-sense notions about the relationship between public remembrance and the nation-state. Taken together, the works also raise important questions about how new kinds of wars — and emergent forms of warfare — are shaping how societies memorialize past violence.

Geoffrey White’s Memorializing Pearl Harbor (2016) is an ethnography of the USS Arizona Memorial, a site that since 2010 has formed part of the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument. The study draws on more than two decades of research and engagement with the memorial, with White presenting the reflections of friends and close interlocutors involved in the site’s production and day-to-day work, observations of changes over time, as well as insights from his experience on the institution’s board of directors (since 2001). Although there are several cross-cutting themes in the chapters of White’s earnest and carefully-researched ethnography, a central problem the book addresses is the inclusion of critical perspectives in the memorialization of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. As White matter-of-factly notes, Pearl Harbor is a historical event that, “does not easily incorporate critical histories replete with moral complexity and contradiction” (2016:2).

Among the representational issues White attends to are the historical absence of Native Hawaiian experiences and perspectives from the site, the depiction of war-era persecution of Japanese-Americans, and the theme of reconciliation with Japan and Japanese veterans. Where an immediate move might be to interpret shifting commemorative practices at the USS Arizona Memorial as a reflection of broader transitions in the memorialization of war in the U.S. and globally (Sodaro 2018; Williams 2007), White’s attention to institutional specificities, conflicting agendas, and historical contingency in the site’s construction disrupts a linear, epochal reading.

During the George W. Bush administration — in a time of flagging support for that president’s own, very different post-9/11 wars — the National Park Service (NPS) moved to situate the USS Arizona Memorial within a broader WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which expanded the institution’s mandate. A key feature of this reorganization was increased attention to “multiple perspectives” on the bombing, a focus that built on previous efforts and responded in part to an NPS emphasis on non-directive techniques for representing history. While White does not dismiss the progressive dimensions of the narrative approach that planners adopted, he consistently attends to differentials of power and influence among the various perspectives displayed. Chapter 3, for instance, chronicles an earlier struggle led by the Japanese American Citizens League to remove an image and phrase from the video shown to USS Arizona Memorial visitors that perpetrated the propagandist myth of Japanese-American saboteurs.

Even as planners came to recognize the importance of representing Japanese-American loyalty and showing experiences such as war-era internment, however, other silences and omissions persisted. White emphasizes that Native Hawaiians and their relation to Pearl Harbor have repeatedly been overlooked in efforts to expand the national “we” represented at the site and locate the bombing in broader historical context. The realization in 2009, for instance, that an exhibition script dealing with the history of Hawai’i featured virtually no consideration of Native Hawaiian perspectives prompted a last-minute scramble to include mention of colonial dispossession—a historical process often dismissed as irrelevant to the events depicted at the memorial site (2016:221-229).

The inclusion of Japanese themes at Pearl Harbor is a contentious issue that has received greater visibility. White details the history of peace and reconciliation initiatives involving U.S. and Japanese veterans, discussing the emergence of off-site ceremonies and encounters that became more officially recognized by the 1990s. A 1995 “end of war” anniversary event that included Japanese veterans sparked divisions within a U.S. survivors’ association, and it was not until the 21st century — a climate marked by aging survivors and an expanded institutional mandate — that commemorative activities recognized as culturally Japanese were officially sanctioned at the memorial (notably a 2011 tea ceremony). White (2016:237) notes that the “ability to quote Pearl Harbor survivors opposed to reconciliation” remained a powerful rhetorical device in debates about the inclusion of this theme in a revamped visitor center. It was only in 2013 that one could find a display at the site that traced any sort of connection between the Pearl Harbor attack and the consequences of nuclear war in Japan, namely the Sadako Crane Exhibit.

Though the incorporation of new elements and discussion of changing sensibilities are at the forefront in Memorializing Pearl Harbor, White also accounts for the ways narratives and experiences have become entextualized at the memory site. Chapter 1, for instance, focuses on the digitalization of survivor testimonies and its implications. Where WWII veterans were once a regular presence at the USS Arizona Memorial as volunteers, visitors now encounter first-person narrations almost exclusively through recorded video testimonies. White notes how veterans’ narratives at the site had always been scripted and vetted to a certain extent while highlighting the narrowing effects of the new medium. Interactions with visitors often produced moments of humor, personal reflections, and discussion of topics not necessarily included in a “just the facts” rendering of history (on humor at a memorial museum, see Kidron [2010]). The taped testimonies (2016:72) lack this dialogic quality and typically do not mention the theme of reconciliation, even as several individuals who recorded their stories were active in such efforts. Further, where historical representation at Pearl Harbor has undeniably become more “civilian,” multicultural, and polyvocal in recent years—the new century witnessing the inclusion of themes considered “unpatriotic” as recently as the 1990s—commemorative activities remain “bound up with an ethos of military service, honor, and remembrance…which remain[s] closely articulated with dominant national histories” (2016:272).

White argues this point convincingly throughout the book, illustrating how a tension between the commemorative and the historical (see also White 1997) permeates debates about Pearl Harbor’s memorialization. Further, continuing a trend he helped establish for the anthropological study of war commemoration (White 1995; see also Mookherjee 2011; Schwenkel 2009; Walkowitz and Knauer 2009), White attends to how practices of meaning-making at Pearl Harbor are increasingly transnational, with planners having to consider the site’s dual-function as military burial ground and international tourism destination. New publics such as Chinese tourists (who tend to view the bombing as characteristic of Japanese war-era aggression) are participating in the making of Pearl Harbor, even if the site’s “sacred core” (2016:28) of patriotic sacrifice is largely maintained.

Maya Barzilai’s Golem: Modern Wars and Their Monsters (2016) focuses on a recurring figure, as opposed to a particular national or historical context, in examining representations of war and its aftermaths over the course of the 20th century. The golem, a clay, anthropomorphic behemoth typically animated through the inscription of Hebrew letters, emerged in Europe during the medieval and Renaissance periods — “golem” derived from the Hebrew galmi, denoting an “unfinished and unformed human shape prior to receiving a soul” (Barzilai 2016:3). Depictions of the folkloric monster did not reach mass audiences until the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The golem is a hulking figure characterized by a lack of intelligence and limited communicative abilities. It is often the magical creation of a rabbi who, responding to times of crisis, conjures the clay monster as a protector of Jews. (A classic rendition involves the 16th century figure Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague seeking to defend his community against expulsion). Yet golem stories consistently emphasize the uncontrollable and destructive dimensions of the techno-mystical production. In some variants, the soulless giant collapses on and kills its creator; in others, the golem comes to inflict excessive and disproportionate violence, harming innocents and those he was charged with protecting. “Equal parts astounding creation and wanton destruction” (Barzilai 2016:7), the golem has been a vehicle for reflecting on the relationship between war and technology in media as varied as post-WWI German cinema, U.S. comic books, and late 20th century science fiction. It might be added that the cultural productions surveyed deftly by Barzilai frequently have a memorializing impetus insofar as they draw attention to the human costs of war and link representations of violence to critical reflection on the present.

In Chapter 1, Barzilai examines the depiction of the golem story in three German films produced by Paul Wegener, a non-Jewish actor and director who served in WWI. Barzilai considers how Wegener’s critical perspective on the war informed his cinematic fashioning of the anthropomorphic monster, with the author noting ways the aesthetic and narrative of the 1920 movie, The Golem, How He Came into the World, evoked the muddy horrors of trench warfare and engendered sympathy for a singularized other in an era of mass destruction. The film’s reception among Jewish-American audiences during the 1920s is a focus of Chapter 2, with Barzilai illustrating how the golem figure became associated with notions of Jewish survival and resilience in a climate of mounting nativism.

Although there is a long tradition of non-Jewish authorship of golem tales, the narratives almost always incorporate Jewish themes and have thus provided material for commentary about constructions of Jewishness. Barzilai (2016:13, 160-162) discusses, for instance, how the golem performs a kind of “reverse ‘ethnic’ drag,” embodying forms of masculinity not historically associated with Jewish ideals — the modern “muscle Jew” notwithstanding. Themes of Jewish self-defense and (ambivalence about) revenge are prevalent as well. The creators of a short-lived comic book series of the 1970s, “The Golem,” for instance, struggled to reconcile the titular character’s lack of humanity with his use of violence to protect and avenge a particular class of humans (2016:155). They eventually decided to scrap the project.

Where references to the state of Israel itself as a golem eventually form part of that country’s narrative repertoire, Barzilai focuses on earlier Israeli deployments of the golem trope. Nationalist commentators regularly spoke of the Arab League as an artificial “golem” fabricated by British enemies of the Israeli state. Later, the work of novelists like Shmuel Yosef Agnon and Yoram Kaniuk would employ the golem’s features to reflect on the consequences of war, with wounded ex-combatants occupying the position of the not-quite-human monster. This usage is exemplified in Kaniuk’s Himmo, King of Jerusalem (1966), which according to Barzilai, uses the golem to “designate the state of unheroic living-death” (2016:142), with an incapacitated veteran of the 1948 war being rendered as the manmade monster of a military campaign driven by nationalist impulses.

Despite its “low-tech” origins as a monster of clay or mud, the golem increasingly came to stand for technologies of war throughout the twentieth century. This usage is especially evident in science fiction, the focus of Chapter 5 in Barzilai’s study. Stanislaw Lem’s Golem XIV (1984), based in 2047, features a mammoth supercomputer that comes to exceed its original function as a machine of U.S. military strategy, applying non-human intelligence to promote peace. Other depictions bear closer resemblance to the golem of Paul Wegener, such as Marge Piercy’s post-apocalyptic cyborgs who react against their role as soldiers dispatched to do society’s “dirty work” in He, She, and It (1991).

Synthesizing her findings, Barzilai (2016:10) speaks of a “golem condition” wherein the mythic creature “forces us to recognize that the fantasies of expanding our capacities and transgressing our natural boundaries are always curbed by the inborn limitations of human existence.” The golem, she argues, directs attention to the moral consequences of channeling our creative energy into the production of violent and destructive technologies. And as Barzilai (2016:223) notes that future wars will likely be characterized by growing dependence on golem-like entities — whether drones or cyborgs or robots equipped with artificial intelligence — her book provides a timely meditation on the human effects of remote and automated violence.

An abiding concern with contemporary warfare drives Allen Feldman’s (2015) Archives of the Insensible, a challenging but rewarding collection of essays by one of anthropology’s leading voices on the politics of violence. Feldman is interested in the fusing of might and right, examining “war as a regime of truth, and truth claiming as forms of war” (2015:1). His central argument is that justified force produces consequences and semiotic excesses that are not easily traced back to the moral and political conditions that (ostensibly) render war just. Feldman focuses extensively on the U.S. war on terror, and draws examples from other contexts such as the Northern Ireland conflict and post-apartheid South Africa. A crucial feature of contemporary violence, he suggests, has been the dispersal of messages and justifications emitted by state actors, with “exceptions” and deviations to the principle of jus ad bellum forming part of a chain of representations that limit accountability and complicate simple notions of revealing atrocity. Although Feldman’s anthropological background is apparent in places, Archives of the Insensible is as much a work of political philosophy or media studies, with the author engaging with Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and the German philosopher Reiner Schürmann as he offers close readings of war photographs from Afghanistan, the cinematic techniques of Jean-Luc Godard, and the gendered performances of “social mothers” in South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Several of the concepts Feldman develops throughout Archives of the Sensible have immediate relevance for the study of memorialization politics. The author uses “the stasiology of the state” to refer to the “always unstable and permeable divisibility of state force,” which “withdraws all anchoring foundation from the inceptual architecture of war” (Feldman 2015:10). Examining the Combatant Status Review Tribunal of Ashraf Salim Abd Al Salam Sultan at Guantanamo Bay (in Chapter 1), for example, Feldman describes how such trials invoked the language of due process despite violating core principles of legal positivism. The citational references to proper legal procedures at Guantanamo, according to Feldman, can be viewed as emblematic of the counter-insurgent state’s performance as “fractured frame, as dismedia, and as the broken middle that frames only in the breaking of frames — legal, political, and communicative” (2015:41). The lack of appeal to a transcendent morality is key, as it is the securitized, “scenic affirmation of sovereignty” (2015:74) that characterizes counterinsurgent violence (which is often outsourced and “containerized”) rather than a tracking back to an imagined moral or historical point of origin (arkhé). Also absent is a reliable enemy or clear notions of victory and defeat (the subject of Chapter 4), with discourses of threat management and perpetual risk overshadowing such constructs, the language of war paralleling that of finance capital.

Similar to Barzilai, Feldman encourages the reader to take monsters and entities deemed monstrous seriously in thinking about representations of violence. Feldman cites the figure of the Jackal in 1980s Northern Ireland to further his discussion of a “first person shooter” optic in contemporary warfare, which is the focus of Chapter 3. The mythic assassin who kills Catholic men in their sleep possesses a drone-like gaze that classifies and serializes ethnically-marked victims while evading detection. Feldman examines a different type of monster-making in placing the 1991 police beating of Rodney King on the same analytical plane as the mediatic production of Operation Desert Storm. King’s depiction as a “beast before the law” — officers referred to him as “bear-like” and “getting on his haunches” (2015:150) — was accompanied by media technologies such as edited, shot-by-shot replays that supposedly demonstrated the police’s targeted and reasonable application of force. Feldman sees connections with the smart bombs and precision strikes of the First Gulf War, arguing that the perceptual tactics employed in both cases demonstrate an ability to hide state-inflicted violence “in full sight” (2015:170).

Concerning public remembrance specifically, anthropologists might take Feldman’s and Barzilai’s insights as an invitation to consider how the creation of war museums and memorials contributes to the domestication and forgetting of past “monsters.” Lisa Yoneyama (1999), for example, has discussed how Hiroshima’s emergence as an icon of peace and “nuclear universalism” obscures the extent to which Japan had been excluded from the universal humanity now evoked at sites like the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. In a different vein, museums’ showing the war-era demonization of past enemies — a display of anti-Japanese propaganda at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans comes to mind — might be analyzed in terms of states’ desires to embrace idioms of reconciliation and offer evidence of changed sensibilities.

Both White and Feldman are critical of the notion that state agendas become expressed in official representations in a simple, straightforward fashion, however. Memorializing Pearl Harbor is not framed as an ethnography of the state, but White’s study affirms the importance of considering the state as a heterogeneous constellation of institutions, subject positions, and practices. About the absence of reconciliation as a theme in plans to rework the Pearl Harbor visitor center, White (2016:208) states, “[w]hile it would be easy to attribute [this absence]…to the hegemony of military memory, closer attention to the fractured planning process complicates easy generalizations about ‘the state’ or ‘the military’ as monolithic voices or agencies.” In the same discussion, White (2016:210) notes that planners’ attention to diverse publics “must somehow be worked out within circumscribed limits of state power (even if state power is rarely monolithic).” Elsewhere, the author acknowledges his limited access to perspectives from certain state actors, namely the U.S. Navy (2016:270). White’s ethnographic approach implicitly calls for greater nuance in scholarly debates that have at times pitted “state-centered” perspectives against those focused on mourning and “social agency” (Ashplant et al. 2000). By showing how official representations are created and made meaningful through the work of differentially-situated national subjects (Boyer and Lomnitz 2005; see also White 2000), White complicates an individual-society distinction and avoids a tendency to hastily interpret specific practices and representations as manifestations of state power.

Memorializing Pearl Harbor also illustrates how conventional notions of expertise may become reconfigured in the context of memorial sites and museums, even when such spaces “are crafted in strategic attempts by state, international, or community institutions to engineer (or simply proclaim) a desired social outcome” (Lehrer and Milton 2011:6). As public memory initiatives typically blend historiography and affect (Williams 2007; White 1997), their creation and management often privileges the experiential perspectives of victim-survivors, a focus that reflects particular logics of traumatic witnessing that began to take hold in the 1970s and 1980s (Fassin and Rechtman 2009). Historian Edward Linenthal (2001:xv), for instance, observes the ways debates about the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum tended to position victim-survivors as a kind of “voter’s [bloc]” endowed with unquestionable moral authority. A similar dynamic is found in White’s study, where the work of planners and intellectuals (reasonably understood as experts) is shaped by the moral and political force of “survivor perspectives.” Other factors contributing to increased collaboration in the creation and management of memorial museums include the circulation of “new museology” as a global discourse (Message 2006), along with the emergence of practices such as “community curating” (Shannon 2014). Indeed, one can imagine an ethnography of war commemoration that takes expertise (Carr 2010) and claims to authority as its central problems.

Feldman’s more deconstructionist approach is well suited for probing the limits of statist representations. “Traumatizing the Truth Commission,” the book’s most ethnographic chapter, analyzes how the foundational racist violence of the South African state was not meaningfully interrogated in the work of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). According to Feldman, the pathologized “bad apples” who perpetrated violence that was not “politically motivated” (read anti-communist) became delinked from a political economy of institutional racism, with the TRC’s investigative work in this sense maintaining the fissures and structural deniability of the apartheid state (Feldman 2015:254-255). In addition, Feldman spotlights moral critiques of violence — some might say ontologies of violence — that appear to defy incorporation into the accounts found at official sites and museums. Xhosa traditional healers refer to demonic forces and the addictive aroma of burning flesh in explaining atrocities perpetrated by state authorities. Robben Island, the national memorial now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, required ritual cleansing, as the former island prison was seen by some as occupied by “troubled spirits” that could harm the living (Feldman 2015:277)

As museums and heritage sites of diverse types increasingly relate to the past through the framework of “memory” (Arnold-de Simine 2013), anthropologists might direct greater attention to the regulation of affective attachments to history, the banishing of melancholy, and questions of “grievable life” (Butler 2004) in memorialization settings. Such an emphasis connects with classic themes in the anthropology of death such as prohibitions on mourning and tie-breaking mechanisms (e.g., Rosenblatt et al. 1976), along with contemporary anthropological work on the relationship between nation-states and the dead (Lomnitz 2005; Rójas-Pérez 2017; Verdery 1999). Feldman, for instance, cautions against the uncritical idealization of exemplary victims in spheres of memorialization and transitional justice, pushing us to think about how the use of violence in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has produced a multitude of deaths that are “insensible” and therefore disavowed (see especially Chapter 6’s discussion of “the victim of the victim,” which builds on Edward Said’s theorization of this concept). Martial memories can also become disciplined at sites of commemoration, as evidenced by concerns over “too much emotion” (and the potential to foment anti-Japanese sentiment) during the early decades of the USS Arizona Memorial (White 2016:25-27). David Scott (2014:117-119), in his thoughtful study of the Grenadian Revolution and its 1983 downfall, views the relative absence of public monuments to era as symptomatic of his “Caribbean generation’s” incomplete mourning. Grenada’s sole memorial being a site dedicated to fallen U.S. soldiers (represented as liberators) cautions those who maintain affective links to the “futures past” of socialist revolution. In short, Nayanika Mookherjee’s (2011:9) call for anthropological attention to “how nations regulate sentiments of belonging” in museum and commemorative settings identifies a problem that should continue to yield useful insights.

A specific dimension of national feeling worth exploring further, particularly in the U.S., relates to the interplay between past and present wars. Where White (2016:92) observes ways the December 7th commemorative events at Pearl Harbor symbolically connect veterans with active-duty military personnel serving in conflicts overseas (e.g., through phrases such as, “Thank you, soldiers”), scholars might consider how new forms of war are engendering new forms of commemoration. To put it somewhat crudely, the lack of a clear sense of victory or defeat in the U.S.’s prolonged post-9/11 wars, combined with phenomena discussed by Feldman (2015) such as the “anasthesiological” use of drones in conflict zones and the “non-archivable” killing of victims of collateral damage, would seem to result in a commemorative scenario quite different from that of other, earlier U.S. wars. The present-day veneration of “the troops” (e.g., “Thank you for your service”) in many ways evinces the widening social distance between those who serve and large swathes of U.S. society. The asymmetric nature of current military entanglements in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Pakistan, along with widespread ignorance when it comes to the objectives, justifications, and effects of specific campaigns, marks them as different from the triumphs and travails of wars past. A human rights-oriented emphasis on the civilian costs of such actions does not appear to be on the horizon, nor does a decentering of “male soldiering” as the quintessential war experience (Nordstrom 2004:33), though non-official initiatives led by artists, activists, and intellectuals should be recognized. Following Feldman, might we ask how our era of anesthetized war is producing anesthetizing modes of commemoration?

Interestingly, the theme of public commemoration makes several appearances in Hugh Gusterson’s (2016) recent, perceptive study of drones. The author notes various ways these golem-like vessels of remote control war are “remixing” notions of valor in the U.S.: are drone operators combatants? should they receive medals? is drone warfare even “war” in the first place? (2016:51-58). Gusterson (2016:126-128) also describes a brief, fortuitous encounter with Code Pink protestors who picketed outside an exhibit on drones at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. A speaker at the protest referred to the display as “war propaganda,” claiming that it “shows you what a drone looks like, but it doesn’t tell you what drones do” (Gusterson 2016:128).

Finally, to return to issues raised at the beginning of this essay, the works surveyed above prompt consideration of the role of anthropologists and other scholars in memorialization processes and relevant public debates. In the wake of Donald Trump’s election in the U.S., for instance, Barzilai (2016) offered commentary on a Trump-as-golem narrative circulating in Jewish media outlets, arguing that the mythic monster served as an apt metaphor for understanding the presidential candidate’s rise as a “Republican golem” whose uncontrollability and belligerence would almost certainly lead to destruction. A quick review of North America-based anthropologists working in the creation of memorialization initiatives reveals scholars curating timely displays that respond to recent human rights violations (e.g., Deborah Thomas and Bearing Witness: Four Days in West Kingston), contributions to national memorial museums (e.g., Pilar Riaño Alcalá and Colombia’s National Museum of Memory), work with communities to reconstruct difficult histories (e.g., University of South Florida anthropologists and the Dozier School for Boys), and the development of centers devoted to the study and production of memory initiatives (Erica Lehrer and the Curating and Public Scholarship Lab). Such engagements do not come without challenges and limitations –White (2016:208), for one, mentions that his advocacy for a more reflexive focus at the USS Arizona Memorial’s evolution over time produced few tangible results — and there is certainly still space for the “critical observer.” It does seem likely, though, that future ethnographies of memorialization will be written increasingly from the perspective of engaged (and perhaps conflicted) participants.

Joseph P. Feldman, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile

Reviewed in this essay:

Barzilai, Maya. Golem: Modern Wars and Their Monsters. New York: New York University Press, 2016.

Feldman, Allen. Archives of the Insensible: Of War, Photopolitics, and Dead Memory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.

White, Geoffrey M. Memorializing Pearl Harbor: Unfinished Histories and the Work of Remembrance. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016.


Arnold-de Simine, Silke. Mediating Memory in the Museum: Trauma, Empathy, Nostalgia. London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Ashplant, T.G., Graham Dawson, and Michael Roper. The Politics of War Memory and Commemoration: Contexts, Structures, and Dynamics. In The Politics of War Memory and Commemoration. Ashplant, T.G., Graham Dawson, and Michael Roper, eds. Pp. 3-87. London and New York: Routledge, 2000.

Boyer, Dominic, and Claudio Lomnitz. Intellectuals and Nationalism: Anthropological Engagements. Annual Review of Anthropology 34 (2005):105-120.

Butler, Judith. Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. London and New York: Verso, 2004.

Carr, E. Summerson. Enactments of Expertise. Annual Review of Anthropology 39 (2010):17-32.

Fassin, Didier, and Richard Rechtman. The Empire of Trauma: An Inquiry into the Condition of Victimhood. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.

Gusterson, Hugh. Drone: Remote Control Warfare. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2016.

Kidron, Carol A. Embracing the Lived Memory of Genocide: Holocaust Survivor and Descendant Renegade Memory Work at the House of Being. American Ethnologist 37.3 (2010):429-451.

Lehrer, Erica, and Cynthia E. Milton. Introduction: Witnesses to Witnessing. In Curating Difficult Knowledge: Violent Pasts in Public Places. Erica Lehrer, Cynthia E. Milton, and Monica Eileen Patterson, eds. Pp. 1-22. London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

Linenthal, Edward T. Preserving Memory: The Struggle to Create America’s Holocaust Museum. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001 [1995].

Lomnitz, Claudio. Death and the Idea of Mexico. Brooklyn: Zone, 2005.

Message, Kylie. New Museums and the Making of Culture. New York: Berg, 2006.

Mookherjee, Nayanika. The Aesthetics of Nations: Anthropological and Historical Approaches. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 17.1 (2011):1-20.

Nordstrom, Carolyn. Shadows of War: Violence, Power, and International Profiteering in the Twenty-First Century. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2004.

Rojas-Perez, Isaias. Mourning Remains: State Atrocity, Exhumations, and Governing the Disappeared in Peru’s Postwar Andes. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017.

Rosenblatt, Paul C., and R. Patricia Walsh, Douglas A. Jackson. Grief and Mourning in Cross-Cultural Perspective. New Haven: Human Relations Area Files Press, 1976.

Schwenkel, Christina. The American War in Contemporary Vietnam: Transnational Remembrance and Representation. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009.

Scott, David. Omens of Adversity: Tragedy, Time, Memory, Justice. Durham: Duke University Press, 2014.

Shannon, Jennifer A. Our Lives: Collaboration, Native Voice, and the Making of the National Museum of the American Indian. Santa Fe, NM: School for Advanced Research Press, 2014.

Sodaro, Amy. Exhibiting Atrocity: Memorial Museums and the Politics of Past Violence. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2018.

Verdery, Katherine. The Political Lives of Dead Bodies: Reburial and Socialist Change. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.

Walkowitz, Daniel J. and Lisa Maya Knauer, eds. Contested Histories in Public Spaces: Memory, Race, and Nation. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009.

White, Geoffrey M. Remembering Guadalcanal: National Identity and Transnational Memory-Making. Public Culture 7 (1995):529-555.

—. Museum/Memorial/Shrine: National Narrative in National Spaces. Museum Anthropology 21.3 (1997):8-27.

—. Emotional Remembering: The Pragmatics of National Memory. Ethnos 27.4 (2000):505-529.

Williams, Paul. Memorial Museums: The Global Rush to Commemorate Atrocities. Oxford: Berg, 2007.

Yoneyama, Lisa. Hiroshima Traces: Time, Space, and the Dialectics of Memory. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999.

About Matthew Wolf-Meyer

Matthew Wolf-Meyer is an anthropologist and historian of science and medicine in the United States. He is author of The Slumbering Masses: Sleep, Medicine & Modern American Life (UMN Press, 2012), Theory for the World to Come: Speculative Fiction and Apocalyptic Anthropology (UMN Press, 2019), and Unraveling: Remaking Personhood in a Neurodiverse Age (UMN Press, 2020). He blogs at and

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