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September 11 Digital Archive Discussion Questions

1. The Digital Archive emerged from a central, driving paradox: that September 11 was the most well documented event in human history, but that this documentation was almost entirely ephemeral. It arose from a need to preserve this new form of digital history. How does the ephemeral nature of the documentation from this day shape our understanding of its history? Does the ephemeral nature of the documentation of September 11 characterize its narrative? Do you agree that without the effort of this archive, digital documentation of September 11 would have just disappeared?

2. Eerily echoing this ephemerality of documentation is the immateriality of the remains themselves. One of the most distinguishing characteristics of the events of September 11 is that for the family of the victims, there was often not even a body to bury. How does the web – and more specifically the Digital Archive -- offer a space of memorialization? Does the Digital Archive provide an unexpected materiality to the process of grieving, both personal and cultural?

3. September 11, 2001 is seen by historians to be the first “truly digital event of world historical importance.” What makes a digital history different? Historians turn to objects to evoke a cultural narrative. In history’s gaze, even the most mundane of objects can take on symbolic importance. Does digital ephemera offer the same narrative as traditional historical objects explored behind panes of glass in a museum? Even further, is a digital history inherently a public history? Was it tragedy that provided the impulse to turn the internet into a social space?

4. From the get-go, the September 11 Digital Archive sought to build a narrative out of voices and perspectives overlooked by the traditional, mainstream media. What characterizes a citizen narration? How does this grassroots storytelling transform our understanding of September 11 and the preservation of its history? Do you think historians 50 years from now could get a true sense of what happened in New York on September 11 by looking at this site?

5. Due to the collaborative, grassroots nature of storytelling on this site, historians see the September 11 Digital Archive as representing a true cultural zeitgeist. To this end, not all of the storytelling and submissions are savory; many are jingoistic in nature. Do you think these voices of response are an essential part of our public history of September 11? Do you think this insistence on including all narratives is critical for this Archive to portray a real moment in American history?

6. In light of our ongoing conversation on the thematic of privilege in the literature of September 11, what are we to make of the fact that un-equal access to digital media in 2001 originally created a Digital Archive almost entirely of stories of privilege? Do you think there’s something to be said about who had access to the internet in 2001 and how the story of the attacks and their aftermath gets told? Do you think more egalitarian and wide-spread access to the internet creates a truer brand of citizen narration around historical events today?

7. The Digital Archive arose as digital habits in the United States became more wide-spread and collaborative in nature. How does the evolution of the Digital Archive reflect our changing attitude toward using the web for cultural/historical preservation?