Remembering and Commemorating September 11th
The Dugan Classroom Archive Project: A Case Study in Memorialization
Penelope Dugan is an Associate Professor of Writing at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
September 11th, 2001, was the first day of classes at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. At 12:30, I met my first section of Freshman Seminar. Most had been in classes all morning and knew something had happened but weren't sure what. What they did know was their cell phones weren't working. The students looked apprehensive. They didn't know each other; they didn't know me; and they couldn't reach their families.
As I was passing out the syllabus, we heard running down the corridor. Three male students stopped outside our classroom door to yell, "Bomb the bastards!" I wrote on the board, "Which bastards?" This prompted uneasy giggles. Then I wrote, "What do we in this classroom know right now about what has happened?" and "What are we going to do?" Students spoke about what they had seen on television and what they had heard. They talked about people they knew who worked in the World Trade Center, class trips to Battery Park and fears about the safety of bridges, tunnels and ferries leaving Manhattan.
Then a student asked, "What are we going to do?" I picked up the syllabus and replied, "We're going to have class today; we're going to have class on Thursday; we're going to have class for the rest of the semester."
As week one and week two went by, I noticed phrases like "whatever," and "it doesn't really matter," appearing in the students' speech. They were having trouble concentrating, planning and anticipating. Any talk about the future made them roll their eyes. So I changed the syllabus. I told the class that instead of doing the final project described on the syllabus, they were to construct an archive about September 11th and the events following it. The archive, I told them, is for their children, and for them twenty-five years from now, so they can show their children what happened when they started college. I told them to include in the archive what they thought was important, what they wanted to remember, and what they wanted their children to know.
Every class after, they asked questions about the archive. Could their parents help by saving the local newspaper? Yes. Could they interview postal employees in Mercer Township about the anthrax threats there? Sure. Could they include videotapes and web clippings? Absolutely. They would tote in what they had done so far to see if it were all right. "Perfect," I said. They showed each other the plastic page enclosures and acid-free boxes they got from the stationery store. Later they told me they were watching the news on TV, reading the newspapers, and going to CNN and MSNBC on the web for news for the first time in their lives.
The last week of class, the students presented their archives. I was stunned at the amount and range of material each collected and catalogued. I was amazed at their meticulous attempts at preserving what they had. Clearly, they wanted future generations to know what had happened.
The final assignment was due December 13. The archive projects, in addition to documenting what occurred on September 11th, contained articles detailing U.S. government response to the events and background information about the groups thought to be involved.
1. How did this archive project help students commemorate this event at the time of the attacks
and today, one year later?
2. How did the archive project document the history for future generations?
3. It is now one year since the terrorist attacks. What kind of memorial would you recommend for your school? What would be the design? What would be the purpose of the memorial?