- From the Editor
Three essays in this issue draw attention to layers of history that are veiled by popular historical memory, which tends to center on iconic scenes and heroic figures and to tell stories of progress, transformation and redemption. Meticulous historical research, however, not only shows that history is multilayered and nonlinear, but also points to the purposes served by historical forgetting, which is always part of remembering.
The issue opens with Laura E. Brade and Rose Holmes’s article on Nicholas Winton, who is considered a hero who single-handedly rescued hundreds of children from Prague on the eve of World War II. But an examination of the historical record shows that “although Winton unquestionably acted admirably, the myth is now bigger than the man.” On the basis of extensive archival research the two authors establish that the rescue of close to seven hundred children was a collaborative effort. Rather than as the heroic feat of one man, it primarily has to be understood as the result of the persistent commitment of women, working in international relief organizations.
Justin Court argues that private photo albums from World War I challenge the popular narratives and thematic focal points to which we have become accustomed. He maintains that they should be regarded as personal testimony rather than as providing simply an additional documentary source for the history of the war. Such albums draw attention to a variety of personal experiences that generally remain absent from the popular memory of World War I, such as the experience of prisoner-of-war camps and the attention soldiers devoted to their comrades.
Jesse N. Curtis, in his article on how Mississippi Senator John C. Stennis was remembered after his death, examines how Americans forgot the way in which a strategic use of colorblind rhetoric against the passage of the Civil Rights Act served the defense of white supremacy. He notes that throughout the 1960s Stennis used an individualizing language of colorblind civility against desegregation, arguing that interpersonal [End Page 1] kindness rather than social reform would further the American dream. Curtis shows that contrary to a popular redemptive narrative, in which Stennis was presented as a man whose personal story mirrored the nation’s racial progress, the senator never renounced his white supremacist views.
The two other contributions to this issue deal with the question of how memorials come about and how they seek to appeal and communicate with their audiences. David Clarke uses the controversy surrounding the recent project of the Leistikowstraße Memorial Museum in Potsdam, which commemorates the suffering of victims of Soviet occupation after 1945, as a case study to understand how disputes over museological strategies shape the representation of history. Clarke’s analysis focuses on the conflicts between three main actors—regional and national politicians, historians and museum professionals, and victim groups. He documents how each group sought to further its interests: professionals resorted to contemporary standards of “memorial museum pedagogy” in order to preserve their authority from the demands of victim groups to focus primarily on their experiences. Victims used their status in order to argue that sidelining their testimony was immoral. Politicians sought to gain political capital by pandering to victim groups while refraining from attacking an independent institution, which would have been considered scandalous. Finally, the conflict involved local coalition politics as well as the national German politics of coming to terms with the past.
Judith Tydor Baumel-Schwartz opens her article on the “Animals in War” Memorial in London, which depicts mules, dogs, horses and other animals contributing to the war effort, with the provocative question “How does one become attracted to a monument?” Although she was not aware of the peculiar history of the memorial when she first saw it, Baumel-Schwartz describes herself as “drawn back to it with an almost magnetic force.” This “obsession” led her to return to it, observe how others responded, and interview over 200 visitors in the course of five years. Examining the process by which the monument came into being and comparing its initiators’ conceptions and intentions with its reception by the general public, she shows that despite the initial critical media response, the memorial has...