“Places of Memory” and Nationalism

In the reading Places of Memory, by Karen E. Till the idea of using place as a rallying point for nationalist claims of territorial jurisdiction is examined in death. The author uses the example of Yugoslavia, and how the mainly Christian Serbs established a monument in a mainly islamic Albanian region. The author contends that by connecting the land to the history of the Serbian people, the government is essentially reestablishing their claim over the land today. A modern day example might be the banal nationalism present in the breakaway Moldovan province of Transnistria. By building monuments of historic Russian leaders, and maintaining soviet era structures, the government is using nationalism to try to make their province appear more Russian than Moldovan. This space-time concept is an interesting way of controlling space, but also a way to establish and maintain nationalist identities. Monuments and memorials are not the only way to establish a nationalist conception of place, in many ways these objects are tools to establish a discourse of nationalism amongst certain groups of people. It is interesting that “places of memory” are meant to cause a fraternity of brotherhood over a location.

Another interesting idea discussed in this reading is how minor things like changing a street name can cause a connotation about the history of a place. Perhaps a historically African American neighborhood has gentrified into an expensive college neighborhood, renaming a street “Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard” might help preserve the cultural identity of the location. Political change can also cause a change in the landscapes of a city. Perhaps after a territory gains independence from their former rulers, they will remove memorials from that state and add new national memorials. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, you would be hard pressed to find statues of Lenin in the central square of Riga, Latvia but you can probably find many statues commemorating Latvian independence.

In the article by Webster, the idea of iconography is explored. Iconography, icons (like a flag for instance) are used to develop a nationalist discourse, and they can also lead to political partitioning. At the fall of Iraq, the “national” flag was altered and used to create a sense of nationalism among the citizens of the country. However, the Kurds developed their own national flag, which they used as an icon to sport their partitioning of a separate state. This idea of the “cult of the flag” is very evidently seen in the United States, citizens are so obsessed because it gives them nationalist feelings of pride and superiority. The flag is just that, a flag, and that is the view I have of it. When a flag gains more meaning than the people who live under it, that is when I get disturbed personally. For instance when governments in our state try to ban flag burning, they are trampling the law of our land (the Constitution and the 1st Amendment) all for the nationalist symbol that is a flag.

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