WMU News

Expert discusses Sept. 11, Oklahoma City memorials

Oct. 3, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- From the Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bomb drop on Hiroshima by the warplane Enola Gay to the ruins of the World Trade Center in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, Americans have long struggled with battles of historic interpretation and the memorialization of tragic events, according to Dr. Edward T. Linenthal, an expert on how history in conveyed in the public arena.

The University of Wisconsin-Oskhosh professor and 1969 Western Michigan University alumnus will examine the cultural aftermath of mass murder tragedies--especially the Sept. 11 attacks and the April, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City-- during a campus address at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 10, in the Fetzer Center's Putney Auditorium.

"Americans have always been concerned with the commemoration and memorialization of great events and great tragedies in their nation's history, although they haven't always agreed on the most appropriate ways to do it," says Dr. Brian C. Wilson, chairperson of the WMU Department of Comparative Religion, which is sponsoring the lecture. The talk, part of WMU's Distinguished Alumni Celebrations, is free and open to the public.

In his 2001 book "The Unfinished Bombing: Oklahoma City as American Memory," Linenthal chronicled the emotionally charged aftermath and difficult public decisions that eventually led to the creation of the Murrah building memorial, which includes 168 bronze and glass chairs, each inscribed with the name of a person killed. The book, which was released shortly before the attacks on New York and the Pentagon, also raises issues that have become part of the national discourse on how best to remember Sept. 11.

"What is most important in this, however, is not simply the details of these two sites," Wilson says, "but what the thirst for memorialization in general says about being an American today and, ultimately, what it means to be a human being. These are the larger issues that Dr. Linenthal will explore in his talk."

One of the nation's foremost experts on memorialization, Linenthal also is the author of "Preserving Memory: The Struggle to Create America's Holocaust Museum," and "History Wars: The Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past." In addition to being the Edward M. Penson Professor of Religion and American Culture at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Linenthal also works as an advisor to the National Park Service to improve educational programming and to assist in the agency's work with the International Coalition of Historic Site Museums of Conscience.

In recent months, Linenthal also has done extensive interviews on the matter with media outlets around the country, including National Public Radio, the Boston Globe, the Dallas Morning News, PBS, ABC News and others.

"Memorials have become much more than just static places to honor long ago events that quickly become of only antiquarian interest," Linenthal told the New York Times in an interview last year. "The purpose is not just to mourn the dead, but to actively reshape the moral conscience of people who come through."

For information about the lecture, contact Wilson in the Department of Comparative Religion at (269) 387-4394.

Media contact: Gail Towns, 269 387-8400, gail.towns@wmich.edu

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