- Marked, Unmarked, Remembered: A Geography of American Memory by Andrew Lichtenstein and Alex Lichtenstein
Partway through his introduction to Marked, Unmarked, Remembered, Alex Lichtenstein raises an intriguing question: does this book belong on a bookshelf or on the coffee table? On the one hand, it is far too beautiful a book to be relegated to a dusty shelf to stand as one spine among many. For [End Page 555] seven years, photographer Andrew Lichtenstein (Alex's brother and coauthor) traveled around the United States capturing sites of "violent trauma" in American history. The majority of the images reflect the legacies of violence perpetrated against African Americans, Native Americans, and organized labor. Andrew Lichtenstein's photographs—provocative, inspiring, thought-provoking, and at times deeply unsettling—are the core of this volume. "To put it most bluntly, what you hold in your hands is a photography book supplemented with text, not a book of scholarship illustrated with photographs," Alex Lichtenstein writes. "We hope the photographs demand that you stop and look at something you may not have noticed before" (7).
On the other hand, Marked, Unmarked, Remembered is much more than a book of photographs. The Lichtensteins pair each photograph with historical commentary designed to provide historical background and necessary context. Perhaps the most novel feature is the inclusion of a selection of essays by ten leading historians: Kevin Boyle, Douglas Egerton, Scot French, Michael K. Honey, Stephen Kantrowitz, Ari Kelman, Gary Y. Okihiro, Julie Reed, Christina Snyder, and Clarence Taylor. These short essays offer more substantial commentary on individual photographs, while helping to advance the larger themes of the volume. Thanks to the interplay of essays and photographs, the volume makes a unique and valuable scholarly contribution and will be a required reference in future historiographical conversations about landscape, commemoration, and historical memory. Bookshelf or coffee table? Scholarly monograph or collection of photographs? It is neither, and it is both. In this, we find the strength of the book.
As the title suggests, Marked, Unmarked, Remembered is split into three sections. The images in the first section, "Marked," focus on formalized sites of remembrance, spaces that have become a part of the nation's recognized commemorative landscape. The second part of the book, "Unmarked," depicts spaces "left derelict" (5). Though the physical locations remain, the violence that occurred at these sites has been largely forgotten. The third section of the book, "Remembered," engages with the process of memorialization. In stark contrast to the photographs in the first two sections, which seldom include people, most of the images in the final section depict people engaging with landscapes of memory. Taken together, the three sections "provide the opportunity to reflect on the way the past appears on both natural and human-made landscapes as if on a palimpsest, and how the photographic image can display aspects of that past, scratching at the surface of the present to disclose the hidden history underneath" (17). [End Page 556]
As the authors readily admit, however, the divisions between sites marked, unmarked, and remembered are far from clear-cut. Even as they offer these categories, the authors work to complicate—even dissolve—their neat typology. As Alex Lichtenstein puts it in the introduction, "There is no avoiding the fact that the categories of memorialization we rely on to arrange the photographs in the pages that follow—marked, unmarked, remembered—are always fluid and contested, as is historical memory itself" (9). This fluidity is not a sign of analytical laziness. It is, in fact, precisely the point that the book seeks to make. Lichtenstein's photographs of "marked" sites tend to focus on the conflicting story lines and counternarratives found at the margins. His treatments of the forgotten histories at "unmarked" sites function as a form of memorialization in their own right, published in "the hope of re-inscribing a denied violent past on the landscapes and built environment" (14). The performances of vernacular memory Lichtenstein captures at sites "remembered" are powerful precisely because they occur in...