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Memorial landscapes: analytic questions and metaphors

Abstract

Over the past two decades, geographers have probed the intersection of collective memory and urban space. Their sustained interest in the subject reflects an understanding of the social condition of commemoration and the important role that space plays in the process and politics of collective memory. Along with other critical social scientists, geographers envision these public symbols as part of larger cultural landscapes that reflect and legitimate the normative social order. A review of the extant literature indicates that geographers scrutinize memorial landscapes through three conceptual lenses that may be understood via the metaphors of ‘text,’ ‘arena,’ and ‘performance.’ These metaphors are in turn mobilized through a series of analytic questions that serve to identify the interests served and denied by landscape ‘texts,’ the ‘arenas’ in which they are produced, and the ways in which they are enacted via ‘performance.’ This article’s synopsis of the subfield’s predominant metaphors and its attendant questions contributes to the ongoing cultural geographic project of articulating and implementing methods for interpreting landscapes as open-ended symbolic systems.

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Notes

  1. The inspiration for this synoptic treatment of the memorial landscape via its metaphors and attendant questions lies with three sources: first, the seminal volume, The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes (Meinig 1979), and in particular Peirce F. Lewis’s essay “Axioms for Reading the Landscape;” second, Stephen Daniels and the late Denis Cosgrove’s chapter, “Spectacle and Text: Landscape Metaphors in Cultural Geography” published in the collection Place/Culture/Representation (Duncan and Ley 1993); and third, the provocative questions that Denis Wood and his colleagues’ put to a series of maps in their booklet Seeing Through Maps (Wood et al. 2006). Further encouragement came in the form of the collection of essays dedicated to Yi-Fu Tuan and edited by Adams et al. (2001).

  2. Compare and contrast this traditional orientation of memorials toward the figural and concrete with recent explorations of ambiguity and complexity in the context of Holocaust memorials, several of which radically de-center the locus of collective memory from designer to viewer. For examples, see Till (2005) and Young (2002).

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Acknowledgements

We wish to express our gratitude to Reuben Rose-Redwood, Maoz Azaryahu, and the three anonymous referees for their generous comments and insights on earlier drafts of this article.

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Correspondence to Owen J. Dwyer.

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Dwyer, O.J., Alderman, D.H. Memorial landscapes: analytic questions and metaphors. GeoJournal 73, 165–178 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10708-008-9201-5

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Keywords

  • Collective memory
  • Commemoration
  • Landscape
  • Memorial
  • Space