The study of public memory—the relationship with our shared past—has grown into an important topic across academic disciplines in recent years. Memory differs from traditional notions of history in that memories can change, transform or become altered over time. They can also be forgotten or recalled. The College of Visual and Performing Arts’ Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies (CRS) conducts many events and projects with Syracuse University and community partners under the auspices of the Public Memory Project, focusing on how memories of the past impact our political and cultural lives in the present.
Established in 2001, the project was initially conceived when organizers hosted a major academic conference on the topic “Framing Public Memory.” Its success created avenues to develop even more aspects to the project, including the conferences “Contesting Public Memories” (2005) and, most recently, “Visible Memories” (2008), which explored the intersections between visual culture and memory studies with particular focus on the ways in which memories are manifested and experienced in visible, material or spatial form.
In addition, the Public Memory Project also encompasses the work of CRS faculty as they explore multiple facets of public memory. Kendall Phillips, chair and professor, focused a public memory class on “Remembering Syracuse’s 15th Ward,” a project about the Jewish and African American neighborhood occupying the area now dominated by the Interstate 81 overpass and SUNY Upstate Medical University. Students in the class worked in teams, collecting archival information and oral histories from various community sites. The project resulted in a community commemoration of the 15th Ward that included a traveling photography exhibition and a storytelling conference.
Professor Amos Kiewe is working with filmmaker, producer, and VPA artist-in-residence Keith Beauchamp to document unsolved murders of the Civil Rights era. Beauchamp is the executive producer and director of Murder in Black & White (2008), a four-part documentary series designed to examine and help solve Civil Rights murders from the 1940s and 1950s while aging, long-silent witnesses and perpetrators might still be alive. As part of this partnership, Kiewe taught a course on the rhetoric of social change, focusing on the Civil Rights movement, and the special seminar “Public Memory: Documenting Unsolved Civil Rights Murders.” Kiewe and Beauchamp also held a town hall meeting for the Syracuse community with a panel that included the chief of the FBI’s Civil Rights Unit and the attorney and deputy chief of the Department of Justice’s Cold Case Unit.