Professor David Sloane’s first book was a pioneering history of the American cemetery as a cultural landscape. He has been engaged in a series of studies of the cultural landscape, from birth to death, most recently a study of the childrenís hospital in Southern California. Beverlie Conant Sloane has worked in health education, and was one of the early leaders in AIDS education for college students. She is also a photographer. Together, David and Beverlie have spent a great deal of time visiting, photographing, and analyzing places of memory, whether it be the AIDS quilt, the Vietnam and World War II memorials, or roadside shrines to lost loved ones. The deep and abiding idea here is that our intimate and small and personal shrines tell us a great deal about how society deals with memorialization and memory, and they are the foundation for the larger and more formal monumental memorials. What is striking is how interdisciplinary interest in the visual, memory, health, death, and urban life–words often bantered about among academics these days–now become concrete and specific and poignantly touching, transforming those words into concretely meaningful notions.
People die in war, environmental disaster, epidemic, and in the ordinary course of getting older. But, perhaps the most awful kind of death, the kind that we have no good account for, are ìaccidents,î with automobile accidents being ubiquitous. Each death is unique, for the place and moment–this is true for all death–but here there is no obvious overarching redemptive story to be told. Families and friends create such a story in roadside memorials, marking our highways in tragic terms. They employ intimate objects, flowers and candles, and religious symbols, to make an accident a meaningful moment by making a place meaningful, rather than its being just one more mile of asphalt or concrete.
Memorials to those who have died in war or in disaster are abstractions, unless we go to cemeteries close to battlegrounds or disaster sites. Those abstractions try to give meaning to deaths that we dearly wished could have been avoided, and also give legitimacy to public actions and governments. Those persons did not die in vain, it is said.
What makes the AIDS Memorial Quilt so powerful is that it combines the intimate and the monumental. Each death counts individually and concretely, yet it is a quilt, a linking together of individual panels into a covering of our whole beings. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial does much the same, allowing persons their own place on the wall.
We make enormous demands on the design of memorials, in part because the visual and the concrete have to some extent displaced the oral and the ceremonial. In ancient times, a funeral oration was a standard form. The Gettysburg Address is perhaps the most famous of modern orations, and we know that such an oral event can be remembered and touch us deeply. Museums make use of oral and visual recordings to bring us back to those moments. And so we might expect that media will enhance future roadside shrines as well as formal memorials.
Historically, cities have been organized around memorials (Trafalgar Square, Lincoln Memorial, . . . ) and cemeteries. As our urban life has become more dispersed, so too have the memorials. Moreover, as more individuals have been able to make their distinctive mark on the landscape, they have taken the initiative to mark that landscape with memorials. [Martin Krieger]