Memory is a tricky phenomenon.  Sometimes people completely forget traumatic events that they have experienced, and other times they remember them differently from how they actually happened.  Culture and surrounding media affect the way that people remember or forget these events, as Rosa A. Eberly states in her 2004 article, “Everywhere You Go, It’s There,” about public memory and the University of Texas (UT) 1966 massacre.  On August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman, an undergraduate student at UT, began shooting people at random from the Tower’s observation deck.  He killed 14 and injured 31 before a police officer killed him.  Eberly explores how the shootings are remembered or not remembered through various case studies.  For example, her class, “The UT Tower and Public Memory,” looked at “anecdotal evidence about interactions between and among various publics, institutions, and special interests regarding memories of the shootings and the status of the Tower itself as a topos” (66). The class became a space (public sphere) for the students to discuss the horrible event from different angles.  Conversely, UT chose not to memorialize the event, leaving the memories no space to emerge except through local talk radio.  These various methods of memorializing shape how individuals remember.  This concept, as well as the idea of public sphere, also applies to the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War.  This bloody conflict has been commemorated in a number of ways throughout the past 150 years. One example is through a multimedia website that the U.S. Army has created, which emphasizes certain aspects of the battle, influencing the memory of anyone who visits the site.

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LIFE magazine covered the shootings.

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A cartoon about remembering the event.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Through her research, Eberly concludes that the various methods of remembering and not remembering directly affect public memory. “Remembering rhetoric’s productive and practical powers suggests that we and our students can choose to play a greater role in making individual and public judgments about artifacts of cultural memory, about institutional repression, and about the process of history-in-the-making” (81-82).  Eberly’s class is an example of this because the students created a space for individuals to converse about all aspects of the massacre.  They looked at the rhetoric of songs, movies, and newspaper clippings about the shootings and discussed the effect they had on the public.  Each artifact provided a unique angle to remember the horrible event, highlighting different people, facts or emotions.  The students debated whether or not the university should build a memorial, because a memorial might draw more attention to Whitman than they would like. They also wanted to visit the Tower, but the UT administration has declared it off limits because they chose not to remember the event that way.  This closed off part of the public sphere, which affected public memory.  Eberly mentioned that in 2004, some of the UT students did not even know the massacre occurred.  Therefore, dealing with traumatic events is a complicated process because it shapes how people remember.

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The public sphere is a place for sharing thoughts and ideas.

Therefore, memories have a large cultural component.  Particular groups may want people to remember certain pieces of past events to convince them to believe or do something in the present.  This connects to the Army’s Battle of Gettysburg website, which contains select facts to highlight aspects of the battle they find important.  The website includes a short narrated animation that covers troop movement over the three day battle.  It highlights eight different people who were involved in various ways.  The Army also provides information about the weaponry used, the casualty statistics, and the aftermath, including Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

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A screen shot of the website’s animation.

Analyzing this information makes it clear what the Army wants people to remember about the Battle of Gettysburg.  By including the profiles, they are reminding society that it was a terrible and bloody event.  Since the narrative is focused on the military tactics and weapons used, it shows that the website is clearly geared toward those who are knowledgeable about strategy and firepower.  The epilogue section also led into World War I, another major event in the Army’s history, demonstrating how it helped the country continue to heal after reunification, even though it was going through another traumatic event.  The Army does not glorify the horridness of the Civil War, but they want the website to be a learning device for their soldiers.  In addition, the site presents the memory of the war in this way to reinforce the importance of having a military.  Through shaping how people remember the Civil War, the Army is making use of the cultural aspect of memory.

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Memory is more than just names on a wall.

Analyzing this information makes it clear what the Army wants people to remember about the Battle of Gettysburg.  By including the profiles, they are reminding society that it was a terrible and bloody event.  Since the narrative is focused on the military tactics and weapons used, it shows that the website is clearly geared toward those who are knowledgeable about strategy and firepower.  The epilogue section also led into World War I, another major event in the Army’s history, demonstrating how it helped the country continue to heal after reunification, even though it was going through another traumatic event.  The Army does not glorify the horridness of the Civil War, but they want the website to be a learning device for their soldiers.  In addition, the site presents the memory of the war in this way to reinforce the importance of having a military.  Through shaping how people remember the Civil War, the Army is making use of the cultural aspect of memory.

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