For this week, we were supposed to design a project incorporating digital humanities/online resources to be assigned in an ideal course that we would be teaching. Given my interest in memory and its construction, the ideal class I conceptualized for this post is an upper-level undergraduate course on comparative memory. The goal of the course would be to investigate how memory is constructed and challenge the common misconception that it is a monolithic concept/narrative. The course would be divided into three sections, each centered around a different event with which all students should be at least vaguely familiar: the American Civil War, the Pacific theater of World War II, and the Iraq War. Each of these events will serve as the foundation through which students will be able to engage with several of the mediums by which memory is constructed and perpetuated. The Civil War unit would focus primarily on the role that statues and physical sites of remembrance, the WWII unit would focus on personal testimony, and the Iraq War unit would investigate the impact of news and reporting. The underlying goal of the course would (hopefully) force students to confront the flexibility and plurality of memory and allow them to understand that memory is a complex construct that is not locked into a binary of “right” and “wrong.”
Assignment Sample from the WWII Unit
This particular assignment would be part of the World War II unit spanning four weeks, specifically focusing on the testimony of those directly impacted by the conflict between the United States and Japan. For this unit’s first week, I would have my students investigate a number of testimonies by various American participants in the war, which would most likely align (at least roughly) with the greater American master narrative with which many students would be familiar using two online digital archives that offer a wide variety of testimony for the Pacific Theater:
This would provide students with a mnemonic baseline and should also start introducing the idea that individual memory does not always align perfectly, even when the experiences are roughly similar.
During the second week, students would have to engage with Japanese testimonials from a number of sources that may challenge the American narrative. First, they would read several testimonies of kamikaze pilots:
In conjunction with these memoirs, students would also read hibakusha testimony about the atomic bomb:
Having read both examples of Japanese and American testimony about the war, students would then be asked to engage with testimony from three other sources that further complicate the construction of memory by introducing often marginalized experiences:
Week four of the unit would see a class-wide debate organized around small groups, each trying to offer and defend a “proper” or “correct” memory of the war to their classmates to hammer home the plurality, multiplicity, and complexity of memory construction, even about something as frequently referenced and commonly understood as World War II.