- Remembering the Alamo: Memory, Modernity, and the Master Symbol
Anthropologist Richard Flores's discussion of the Alamo and its place in American history is less concerned with the details of the 1836 siege than with the people who have shaped the memory of that event and their purposes in doing so. To this end, Flores develops a framework based on theory from anthropology, geography, social history, and semiotics. The very complexity of his interpretation makes it difficult to do his work justice in a short review. At its core is the use of symbolic theory to demonstrate how historically produced memory transformed the Alamo into a "master symbol" that has served the social needs of "the Texas Modern"—the period after 1880 when modern capitalism transformed social and economic relations between Anglo and Mexican Americans, increasingly forcing the latter into a subordinate laboring class subject to segregation and intolerance (p. 10 ).
It was no coincidence that during these same years a major effort was underway to preserve the crumbling ruins of the Alamo and to glorify the deeds of its defenders. This movement, in Flores's view, makes "interpretive sense only when read as both emerging from and constitutive of the changing material conditions of this period and its formalization into segregated, prejudicial, and devalued social relations between Anglos and Mexicans" (p. 10 ). Public history sites are created for specific reasons, usually to fit someone's social agenda, and often serve "to hide the material social relations and conditions that require such sites in the first place" (p. xviii).
Flores develops his arguments through an investigation of such expressive forms as memory, historiography, film, and literature. These include the official story and significant silences presented at the Alamo by its custodians, the spatial transformation of San Antonio and its plazas (including the Alamo plaza) since the nineteenth century, the efforts of early twentieth-century preservationists to save the site from destruction and their goals in doing so, the treatment of the story in films, and the importance of the story of David Crockett in the historical construction of the Alamo myth. He finds a common thread throughout, for in all these ways of remembering the Alamo the social needs of a dominant class have been served.
Some arguments are more convincing than others. Scholars interested in San Antonio's history will want to reference his excellent discussion of the development of modern San Antonio and the Alamo plaza. His analysis of the Alamo as a symbol to codify economic and racial relationships in turn-of-the-century Texas are similarly stimulating and will prove useful to scholars of the borderlands. Scholars would profitably build on Flores's arguments to question how other reconstructed [End Page 537] histories—perhaps the cult of the Lost Cause—have worked to shape social relations in Texas. Less persuasive is his critique of the visitors program at the Alamo, which misses some of the positive changes that have been made in recent years, including the retention of a professional historian and the development of a Web page with links to a wide range of resources.
The University of Texas Press has released this book in a paperback edition, giving it the external appearance of a trade book. Yet the methodological complexity of Flores's arguments makes it best suited to scholars and graduate students. Its theoretical nature and jargon-laden dialogue make it rough terrain for the general reader. This book demonstrates that the intellectual battle for the Alamo is alive and ongoing. Borderlands historians, public historians, geographers, and anthropologists will find much here that is stimulating.