Monday, September 5, 2011

Historicizing 9/11

Readers may find some of the reflections on 9/11 in the Fall 2011 issue of Radical History Review of interest.  Abstracts of articles that struck me as particularly interesting follow; the entire issue is accessible here.

September 11, the War on Terror, and Perpetual Warfare: An  Interview with Andrew Bacevich
Paul L. Atwood
The history professor Andrew Bacevich of Boston University is a West Point graduate, a Vietnam War veteran, a self-styled conservative, and a leading critic of over-reach in U.S. foreign policy. He was interviewed in November 2010 by Paul L. Atwood of the University of Massachusetts, Boston. The interview covered the Bush administration's response to the September 11, 2001, attacks and the dynamics of U.S. overseas interventionism, including military-civilian relations. “Civilian control has been deeply compromised,” Bacevich claims, “and the policies that have resulted have been, more often than not, deeply flawed. This is a huge problem, to which most Americans remain blind.”

The FBI and the Making of the Terrorist Threat
Ivan Greenberg
The Bush administration's so-called war on terror needs to be situated within the context of earlier efforts to demonize dissent. Since the early 1970s the FBI has increasingly linked the threat of terrorism to lawful domestic social movements to undermine their legitimacy and blur meaningful distinctions between violent and peaceful political activity. In recent years, the FBI has become the leading control agency in what scholars and popular writers term the “surveillance society.” The FBI monitors public spaces and has deployed increasingly sophisticated technological surveillance. The bureau also has developed a new “preventative paradigm,” viewing well-nigh all street protest as dangerous. Recently declassified government records are beginning to document how the FBI, using its expanded powers, played a major role in threatening the rights of free speech and of assembly after 9/11.

Testimonies and Archives

The September 11 Digital Archive: Saving the Histories of September 11, 2001
Stephen Brier and Joshua Brown
This article focuses on the creation and subsequent development of the September 11 Digital Archive (, currently one of the largest digital repositories of historical materials on the September 11 attacks. The article reflects on archival and methodological questions and on issues raised by the efforts of staff members at the Center for History and New Media (CHNM) at George Mason University and at the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning (ASHP) at the City University of New York Graduate Center to preserve and present via the Internet digital resources related to the epochal events of a decade ago. The authors, two of the project's three executive producers (the third being the late Roy Rosenzweig), discuss various collecting and organizational issues involved in building a digital archive. They also discuss the effort to balance the development and deployment of an open and accessible Web interface for individual online submissions of digital materials with targeted outreach to and solicitation of contributions from members of underrepresented communities, including the Arab, Chinese, and Latino communities. The article proposes that historians must also function as archivists and preservationists in an era of fragile and ephemeral digital communications.

Herodotus Reconsidered: An Oral History of September 11, 2001, in New York City
Mary Marshall Clark
In “Herodotus Reconsidered: An Oral History of September 11, 2001, in New York City,” Mary Marshall Clark reports on some outcomes of the large, longitudinal oral history project she and the sociologist Peter Bearman undertook in the weeks following the events of September 11, 2001. The project was designed to capture the life histories and event narratives of a diverse set of New Yorkers, and the interviewing resulted in more than one thousand hours of recording, six hundred hours of which are now available to the public for a total of 440 interviews. Clark and Bearman explored the ways that the stories of New Yorkers, whether directly or indirectly affected by the events, differed from the national construction of meaning disseminated by the government and the media. In this essay Clark explores the importance of oral history in defining public meaning and interpretation as the basis for the construction of the collective memory of events that are considered historical turning points.

Can the Diaspora Speak?: Afghan Americans and the 9/11 Oral History Archive
Ann Cvetkovich
This article evaluates the role of oral history in the public memory of September 11, 2001, through a small cluster of interviews with Afghan Americans that form part of Columbia University's September 11, 2001, Oral History Narrative and Memory Project. The interviews, most of them with young, educated, and secular Afghan Americans whose families came to the United States after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, tell a different story of 9/11 than that of eyewitnesses and survivors at the World Trade Center. In addition to illuminating the impact of 9/11 on the everyday life of New Yorkers, the interviews reveal the backlash experienced by immigrants from Afghanistan (and from the Middle East and South Asia) and the transgenerational and transnational legacy of histories of violence, which manifest themselves in ordinary family stories and feelings. Moreover, this culturally literate, relatively assimilated group testifies to the challenges of making its perspectives on Afghanistan legible when they are solicited for public commentary. The article argues that these putatively minor and ordinary voices suggest the value of Columbia's 9/11 oral history archive in countering the hyperdocumentation and sensational representation of 9/11 in a range of genres.