Perspectives on Memory (for 22 July)

Tower of Faces in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Borrowed from

Jennifer Hansen-Glucklich uses examples of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), Yad Vashem, and the Jewish Museum Berlin to discuss how the deliberate choices made when designing museum exhibit layouts and displays affect the result when visitors come through. She makes a direct comparison between the USHMM’s Tower of Faces, which features over a thousand photos in a three-story tower from the now-gone Jewish population of a town called Eishishok in Lithuania, and Yad Vashem’s Hall of Names, which places visitors in the middle of a huge cone of pictures of survivors whose stories are being retold on their own terms.

The contrasting detail between these two exhibits that she brought up which stuck with me most was the fact that visitors cross through the Tower of Faces three times in the USHMM, and Yad Vashem’s exhibit is designed to be more of an ending to the tour where individuals’ stories are remembered in response to the tragedy. Hansen-Glucklich writes that by having visitors return again and again Tower of Faces, it reminds them first of how many communities like this went extinct during the Holocaust and further of the way that trauma like this is remembered: it resurfaces again and again in the memory. I suppose this example probably also stood out to me because of how much Tower of Faces itself stuck with me when I visited the USHMM. My grandmother’s grandmother and her family escaped anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia and Romania just before the First World War, and they left behind a shtetl just like Eishishok. We don’t have any pictures left of their life there, and no one alive today can really tell us what it was like. 

Melissa Weiner also discusses memory in her paper on how the narratives of slavery, colonialism, and racism are told in the Netherlands, specifically in textbooks. This is definitely an academic paper, complete with an in-depth analysis of how often and in what way stories of slavery and non-white people in Dutch history are told. In a nutshell, the findings were grim; when slavery is mentioned at all, it is not covered as extensively as it should be, and it does not accurately reflect the atrocities that were not just supported and funded but certainly carried out by both private Dutch citizens and companies and the governments of the Netherlands itself. What I found especially interesting—and telling—was when Weiner brought up passive versus active voice in the telling of the slavery narrative. Rather than using language that explains who it was that was subjecting people to these horrors, Weiner cites these textbooks using phrases like, “The slaves were treated badly” or “On the sugar plantations, life was deadly” (p. 339). Phrasing it like this alters the narrative to take blame off of any group—specifically, the white Dutch slaveowners and the institutions that funded them.

Our last scholar gives us another perspective on remembering; Larry Beasley makes an argument for city museums that sees the city itself as a museum. He pushes the boundaries of a traditional “museum” by asking us to imagine museums that aren’t confined to just one building, where everyone in the city participates in telling stories and remembering. This may look something like specific, developed spaces, such as the Red Box in Berlin that popped up after the Wall fell down there, but they could also be even more temporary and interactive exhibitions. They don’t have to be exhibitions at all—I get the impression that Beasley would support whatever it took to preserve memory and character of the city, as long as the residents of that city were heavily involved. 

These three scholars all discuss different ways of remembering the past, and offer suggestions and critiques on a few ways in which that has been done. Beasley offers some ideas on how stories of everyday life could be preserved for the future, and Hansen-Glucklich and Weiner offer perspectives on how some extremely traumatic narratives are already being presented to the public. I think Hansen-Glucklich and Beasley would have much to say to each other about the power of non-traditional exhibitions in museums. Weiner would also like to shake up the status quo when it comes to the way in which the Dutch remember their nation’s role in slavery, colonialism, and the building and perpetuation of global institutional racism. Perhaps an out-of-the-box museum like Beasley suggests could be a step toward telling these stories from the point of view of those who were affected.


2 thoughts on “Perspectives on Memory (for 22 July)

  1. I enjoyed how you highlighted Gluckick’s point that in the USHMM visitors will walk past the Tower of Faces three times throughout it. I believe that this would leave more of an impact on the viewer and cause them to remember some the faces of the victims and the great number of victims as you stated that Gluckick brought up in her article. I agree that Weiner’s paper was more of a scholarly work. I enjoyed your recognition of Weiner’s narrative on how a certain type of voice for the textbooks leave no one to blame for the oppression and horrors that were put on these slaves. I like how you brought Gluckick and Beasly together and thought that they both would have great ideas on the power of non-traditional exhibits in museums. I agree. I would love to hear more detail on Bealsy’s ideas of the out of the box way of showing an exhibit. I would also like to see how to hear more on how their visions would work together to create various exhibits. I really enjoyed this post.


  2. Hansen-Glucklich certainly made me think more deeply about Holocaust museums and exhibits. Obviously presentation is critical in messaging, but I would not have considered the significance of something like the wall of faces before. Repetition and the personal touch are key as you say. You are able to relate to this on a familial level, and perhaps some of these faces make you think of your great great grandmother and her family. Your suggestion of a Beasley museum would be very interesting. I wonder what that would look like.


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