By Sabrina Ottaway ’25 and Aileen Ryu ’25/The Lawrence
Last month, Lawrenceville’s Heely Scholars in Archival and Historical Research traveled to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City to explore depictions of historical memory. They toured the memorial, which aims to improve the American public’s understanding of 9/11 and tells the stories of survivors, first responders, and those who lost loved ones during the attacks.
After catching a couple of early morning trains to get to Manhattan, the Heely Scholars spoke to Museum Curator Jan Ramirez about memorializing tragedies and how to best present them to the public when telling these narratives. According to Elizabeth Parnell ’23, their discussion emphasized crafting narratives “through the process of curation.” Parnell discussed how the process of curation must “do justice to the lives lost [and] hold some aspects of the political narrative and the historical narrative of the event in a global context.” The Heely Scholars learned how to curate events in a sensitive manner, acknowledging that people may still have a hard time processing the tragedy. Ramirez also discussed how even from the outside perspective, paving the way to an important connection to others and history can play a vital role in making communities stronger.
“One particular piece of the museum that stood out to me was the large wall of blue tiles in a hall called Memorial Hall,” Lilly Gessner ’23 said. The piece, “Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning,” conveys an impactful message of forming collectives and ideas of memory through the 2,983 watercolor squares depicted with unique shades of blue, one for each of the victims of the 1993 and 2001 attacks. “The quote, ‘No Day Shall Erase You from the Memory of Time’ [in the midst of all the watercolor tiles] really resonated with me,” Gessner noted.
Although the Heely Scholars’ research this year was concentrated on World War II, many found that their discussions in New York City touched upon an integral theme of historical narratives and common memory that appeared throughout their scholarship. Yan Tsenter ’23 recalled, “Our trip to the memorial museum really did connect to a lot of what we poured into the program...because we got to see exactly how history is recorded” and how personal biases influence the record of history.
Tsenter also noted that the themes of the trip linked back to a book the scholars read over the summer, “Looking for the Good War” by Elizabeth Samet. Tsenter recalled that the book examines public and historical memory and how “people tend to remember things and how the way we remember things can really shape our actions in the present.”
Gessner mentioned the significance of balancing “complexity and accuracy” in retellings of historical events. According to Gessner, Ramirez spoke “about the future of the museum once generations that were not directly impacted passed,” thus the importance of embedding a culture of accuracy, as well as a “tolerance for complexity.”
For some Heely Scholars, the trip illuminated potential career paths they could take. Parnell noted, “[Museum studies] bring history as a career…out of just being a historian” while still having “history at the center of”one’s work.
Photo credit: Autri Basu ‘23/The Lawrence
For additional information, contact Lisa M. Gillard H'17, director of public relations, at firstname.lastname@example.org.