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Democratic Narrative, History, and Memory

Carol Barbaot, Laura L. Davis

Publication Year: 2012

The most recent book from the Symposia on Democracy SeriesThe essays in this volume explore the complex relationships among events, memory, and portrayal of those events and the deepest questions of human experience, all viewed through a range of disciplinary lenses but grouped into three sections, each with its own focus and meaning.

The first group of essays focuses on the events of May 4, 1970, when the Ohio National Guard shot Kent State University students, killing four of them and causing shock waves that continue to resonate among those concerned with peace and violence, silence, and giving voice. Essays in the second group address the part played by corporate and noncorporate media in shaping public memory and raising public consciousness. The final section examines acts of remembrance and reconciliation within local communities and the long history of discrimination within the national community, directly and indirectly proposing ways in which society can move toward social justice.

For four decades, the Kent State University community has worked to preserve the stories of those who were lost on May 4th, both to honor them and to reveal the universal meanings behind the events. The community is negotiating, in a literal sense, the space between memory and history and between social remembering and historical analysis. For many at Kent State and in other communities that have experienced violence, the historical event is a lived event. Acts of scholarship are sometimes acts of remembrance and commemoration at the same time.

This volume emanates from a commemorative act—the University’s tenth Symposium on Democracy, founded in 2000 as a living memorial to the four students who lost their lives and as an enduring dedication to scholarship that seeks to prevent violence and promote democratic values and civil discourse. The work in this collection pursues historical meaning that holds relevance both for a particular community and speaks indelibly to the entire human community.

Published by: The Kent State University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vi-vii

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pp. vii

On May 4, 1970, an international spotlight focused on Kent State University after a student protest against the Vietnam War and the presence of the Ohio National Guard on campus ended in tragedy. Twenty-eight guardsmen fired sixty-seven shots in thirteen seconds...

Part I From History to Humanity

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pp. 3-7

“What three things can never be done?” American poet Muriel Rukeyser asks in The Book of the Dead, her epic that memorializes 476 West Virginia miners who died of silicosis building a tunnel for Union Carbide in the early 1930s. Rukeyser responds to her own question with chilling and exacting reprehension: “Forget. Keep silent. Stand alone.”1 For more than...

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Kent State and Historical Memory

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pp. 8-29

As news spread in May 1970 of the fatal shootings at Kent State University (KSU), outraged students throughout the country went on strike to protest the violent suppression of peaceful dissent, while countless other people expressed the view that Kent’s protesters only got what was coming to them. In many ways the simultaneous outrage and backlash framed...

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Kent State Comes to Canada

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pp. 30-48

The Vietnam War and the movement that arose in opposition to it have been framed as American phenomena. American men donned uniforms and weapons and fought America’s war in Southeast Asia, while back home an increasing number of Americans protested the war. That the Vietnamese played significant roles on both sides of the war is secondary...

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Remembering Injustice and the Social Construction of Silence

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pp. 49-64

Silence is a place where no one says what everyone knows. In the face of injustice, silence of this kind conveys complicity. These remarks are addressed to you, the silence-breakers, who recognize, with Joseph Brodsky, that “the past won’t fit into memory without something left over. It must have a future.”1 It is your achievement to shape that future through...

Part II Corporate Media Culture and Public Memory

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pp. 67-72

Columnist Walter Lippmann once claimed that the media are our windows to the world—particularly the world beyond our direct experience.1 In the years since, media scholars have devoted considerable attention to ascertaining the media’s influence on our opinions...

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Visualizing the Limits of Democracy in the Silence of the Cold War

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pp. 73-85

On the eve of World War II, Henry Luce, the editor-in-chief of Life magazine, published an article laying out his dream for “the American Century.”1 He believed that if American democracy became a model for others, all the world’s peoples could be lifted “from the level of the beast to . . . a little lower than the angels.”2 Americans embraced his ideological...

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Lost History/Lost Democracy

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pp. 86-102

Speculation about the United States getting over the sixties is an almost reflexive media preoccupation that goes back to the end of the 1960s decade itself.1 In 2008, Barack Obama’s campaign for the presidency provided the mass media with yet another irresistible opportunity...

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“Of Loss and Learning”

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pp. 103-116

The stories accompanying these headlines made up the Akron Beacon Journal’s Pulitzer Prize–winning entry for coverage of the shootings at Kent State in 1970. Murray Powers, then a Kent State University journalism professor and formerly the Beacon Journal’s managing editor, wrote in his four-paragraph letter nominating the newspaper for a Pulitzer...

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Wars on Trial in Three Landmark Documentary Films

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pp. 117-134

In the years since World War II, events have left the living with terrible, traumatic memories and moral questions they can remember only with pain, but cannot and must not forget. Do images give us a way to remember the conditions of war, and reflect ethically upon them? It has...

Part III Memory, History, and Justice

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pp. 137-141

One of the key questions raised by the 2009 Kent State University Symposium on Democracy concerned the nature of memory and how individuals and society choose to remember or, in some cases, not remember events of the collective past. The conference’s focus on remembering......

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The Role of Forgetting in Remembering

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pp. 142-158

I graduated from Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, twenty-five years after Ernest Green. I did not know this until nearly fifteen years later, when I became part of the official memory-making process by serving on the Planning Committee of the Central High Museum Visitor Center and the Advisory Committee to the Little Rock Central High Anniversary Commission...

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Confronting the Legacies of Violence

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pp. 159-175

Shots ring out as a group of heavily armed men opens fire on unarmed, peaceful protesters gathered for a demonstration. Several fall, mortally wounded; more are injured, some very seriously. Afterward, those in positions of authority and many in the larger community blame the protesters: it was their fault for making trouble; they were outside agitators seeking...

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Social Remembering and Kent State

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pp. 176-193

Shortly after the events of May 4, 1970, when members of the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd of unarmed Kent State University students, killing four and wounding nine others, people began calling for ways to remember the fallen and injured students. It is generally assumed that the social remembering of an important cultural event is a good thing. This is particularly true when the remembering concerns events that have...

Appendix: This We Know

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pp. 194-227


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pp. 228-241


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pp. 242-244


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pp. 245-257

E-ISBN-13: 9781612776453
E-ISBN-10: 1612776450
Print-ISBN-13: 9781606351192

Publication Year: 2012

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Subject Headings

  • Kent State Shootings, Kent, Ohio, 1970 -- Congresses.
  • Collective memory -- United States -- Congresses.
  • Mass media -- Social aspects -- United States -- Congresses.
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