For this week’s highlighted resource, I would like to take the chance to highlight two resources that I feel come together nicely to initiate discussions about the relationship between memory, history, harm, education, and justice. The first is the book Curating Difficult Knowledge: Violent Pasts in Public Places (ebook) (paperback), edited by Erica Lehrer, Monica Eileen Patterson, and Cynthia E. Milton. The second is the web-accessible museum tour of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia curated by David Pilgrim.
Curating Difficult Knowledge is a collection of 10 essays exploring the complex facets of remembering and memorializing violent histories in public places and within public memory.
The book includes the following essays:
The authors discuss both the successes and the pitfalls of memory centers and heritage sites such as the Kigali Memorial Center devoted to remembering the Rwandan Genocide, the Kliptown Museum and its recognition of South African apartheid, the exhibition "We Were So Far Away”: The Inuit Experience of Residential Schools, and El Ojo que Llora memorial to Peru’s civil conflict. Although each author takes a unique approach to the subject of their inquiry, they are unified in questioning the validity of blind preservation or destruction as methods of dealing with “difficult knowledge”.
Curating Difficult Knowledge describes “difficult knowledge” as knowledge that “[...] does not fit. It therefore induces a breakdown in experience, forcing us to confront the possibility that the conditions of our lives and the boundaries of our collective selves may be quite different from how we normally, reassuringly think of them.” The objects that represent difficult knowledge are multi-layered, and our responses to them as craftspeople, teachers, and curators can affect their potency, ability to harm, and potential to heal.
One such potent example of utilizing painful objects as tools for learning and building empathy is the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University in Michigan. The museum’s founder and curator David Pilgrim states that the museum’s horrifying and gut-wrenching display of racist objects "is all about teaching, not a shrine to racism" and that it aims to "to get people to think deeply” about their role in dismantling white supremacist structures.
In keeping with this mission, the Jim Crow Museum has recently digitized their collection into a web-accessible 3D model. Given the current situation with COVID-19 and the closure of schools, I felt that this digital exhibition may be a useful tool for teachers this semester. While it remains unsafe to visit physical museums, perhaps this virtual experience could take the place of an in-person museum tour in order to spark discussions around race, memory, and object-making.