This headline and the article which follows, infuriates me. Because the letter was NEVER lost. It was in an archive clearly listed in a finding aid prepared by an underappreciated underpaid archivist who did everything in their power to make it accessible to researchers.
If you go into the Royal Society’s library catalog search, type in “Galileo,” and sort by date, this “lost” letter” is one of the first results. There is no excuse for this shoddy-ass reporting, nor this shoddy-ass academic work. Yet here they are, gleefully erasing the work of the archivist!
I have two Master’s degrees: an MA in History and an MLIS in Archival Science. Archivists have their own set of Things I can yell about but lately historians have realllyyyy been vexing me in the way they erase archivists or talk about us like we’re the damn scullery maid.
“Folks, there’s nothing left from the Linguistics division. We lost all the indigenous languages collection: the recordings since 1958, the chants in all the languages for which there are no native speakers alive anymore, the Curt Niemuendaju archives: papers, photos, negatives, the original ethnic-historic-linguistic map localizing all the ethnic groups in Brazil, the only record that we had from 1945. The ethnological and archeological references of all ethnic groups in Brazil since the 16th century… An irreparable loss of our historic memory. It just hurts so much to see all in ashes.”
Following the language and reactions being used by individuals and publications to contextualize the child internment camp situation has been fascinating, from the historian’s point of view. Specifically, I think there’s a lot we can glean about collective memory, and the impact intersecting identities have on collective memory and which pasts we invoke.
For me, I jumped right to the Holocaust because of the rhetoric I saw being tossed around, the behavior of officials, and Hannah Arendt’s arguments regarding the nature of totalitarianism, bureaucracy, and evil. And, as a Jewish woman who studies the Holocaust, it’s honestly habitual of me to jump there.
Others jumped to the Rwandan genocide, based on use of dehumanizing language like “criminals,” and “infestation.” Black Americans immediately noted that the United States has been regularly forcibly separating brown children from their parents since before the United States existed. Native, Japanese, and very left wing Americans from educated classes and progressive niches were quick to note the similarities to US government actions which forcibly separated Native children from their parents in an act of attempted cultural genocide, and the Japanese internment camps.
I didn’t see much invocation of other historical instances of dehumanization, racism, and genocide. That could, however, speak to the sample size I have access to.
I do not have a conclusion to this yet. But I do think there’s something here about race, class, ethnicity and the nature of memory.
You, my only one, dearest, in isolation we are waiting for darkness. We considered the possibility of hiding but decided not to do it since we felt it would be hopeless. The famous trucks are already here and we are waiting for it to begin. I am completely calm. You — my only and dearest one, do not blame yourself for what happened, it was our destiny. We did what we could. Stay healthy and remember my words that time will heal — if not completely — then — at least partially. Take care of the little golden boy and don’t spoil him too much with your love. Both of you — stay healthy, my dear ones. I will be thinking of you and Misa. Have a fabulous life, we must board the trucks.Into eternity, Vilma.
–Vilma Grunwald, moments before she entered the Auschwitz gas chamber, July 11, 1944.
”Stories like Behar’s are the reason why I keep looking for traces that will allow me to shine a light on other experiences, outside the heteronormative Holocaust master narrative. Queer studies has been a field that embraces a difficult history riddled with gaps, failures, and difficulties. In the context of Holocaust history, it allows us to see a different kind of history, one that’s unafraid to include ambivalences and hierarchies.”
I am not here to tell you why it’s disrespectful to play Pokémon Go at the Holocaust Museum or wherever. Frankly, if you need to be told why, you’re too far-gone for anything I say to have any impact. So let’s just skip past my pearl-clutching and moral assessments and move on to meaning; what does it mean to play Pokémon Go in spaces with commemorative meanings assigned to them?
Before I go any further, and for those of you out of the loop (like my mom, who thought this game involved following clues to people dressed like Pokémon), Pokémon Go is a cell phone game which, using the mobile device’s camera and GPS, allows players to catch, train, and battle Pokémon in the physical environment, transformed within the augmented reality of gameplay.
Oh hey look, there’s a Squirtle chilling in my office with my freshly processed papers.
Once a Pokémon is spotted, the player has to throw a Pokéball within the game and make a successful catch. And if the player catches all the Pokémon lurking in their immediate vicinity, they have to get up, and walk around their city, town, or local park to find more. If a player wants to buy supplies or battle with other players, they have to walk to a PokéStop or a Pokémon Gym, typically located at identifiable landmarks like monuments, local strip clubs, and some dude’s converted church house (no but actually).
I’ve thought a lot of about different spaces where gameplay could be perceived as tacky or inappropriate, and I’m going to focus on three sites: Auschwitz, where 1,100,000 Jews and 200,000 Romani, gay men and women, people with mental and physical disabilities, Resistance members, dissidents, and POWs were tortured, abused, executed, and tossed into the ovens; Tuol Sleng (previously known as Security Prison 21/S-21), a former high school used by the Cambodian Khmer Rouge regime as a prison, torture and execution center; and the September 11 Memorial and Museum, the site of death for nearly 3,000 people, and the grave of those whose remains were never identified.
Installation at the September 11 Memorial and Museum between the footprints of the towers. Behind this wall is the
Office of Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York, where unidentified human remains are stored. Image courtesy of the September 11 Memorial and Museum.
The women’s barracks at Auschwitz. Image courtesy of Yad Veshem.
The Khmer Rouge photographed every S-21 incoming prisoner, and here are a fraction of those images on display at
the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Image courtesy of said museum.
NOTE: The images I chose to represent Auschwitz and Tuol Sleng are comparatively tame. I could have chosen much more disturbing ones, but I find those extremely triggering, and I have no desire to spring that on anyone.
I choose these three because these are inarguably sites of human suffering, murder, and/or torture. That legacy cannot be assigned; it’s intangible. These sites are not in any way spatially divorced from the horrors they commemorate.
I don’t think the game has been released in Cambodia (yet) so my use of Tuol Sleng is hypothetical. But it has been released in Poland and the US and yes, people have and are playing Pokémon Go at Auschwitz and at the September 11 Memorial and Museum.
Here someone plays the game one of the two September 11 Memorial Pools, which lie in the footprints of the two towers. Image courtesy of Time Magazine.
So again I had to ask myself, what does this mean?
Screen-cap of the Auschwitz gameplay. Image courtesy of the NYMag twitter.
Pokémon Go’s gameplay allows users to assert augmented reality over their surroundings. They engage as people on the game board of Pokémon Go, not as people taking in the meaning of the space around them. The game takes what exists, and projects itself over it. Thus, in these spaces I’m discussing, that is no longer a room where a Khmer Rouge official tortured a librarian, or where Jews were forced to huddle together like cattle before the slaughter,or where unidentified human remains still lie, but simply wallpaper; just the setting of a game.
Superimposed Pokémon lurking outside the entrance to Auschwitz. Image courtesy of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
To play Pokémon Go at these sites is to divorce them of all meaning, wrest them away from the hideous pasts they and all visitors must bear witness to. And I guess I lied; I have to extend moral judgement here, because that act?-is pretty profane.
At a site like the Vietnam War Memorial*, it’s a much more ambiguous relationship. This is a memorial to lives lost on a battlefield across the sea. It’s meaningful because we, as a society, have made it meaningful. People bring to it their grief and trauma and memories, and in doing so imbue it with meaning. Or to put differently, the meaning of the Vietnam War Memorial is a constructed, but it’s a meaningful, important construct.
It is a symbolic site of mourning which means different things to each of the millions of people who visit it. One person could see playing Pokémon Go at the Vietnam Memorial as a horrific insult to fallen soldiers and veterans suffering from trauma, while another could see at as a tribute to a fun-loving grandfather, or never-met uncle. Because it is not on the site of death, the meanings of augmented reality gameplay at the Vietnam Memorial are too fractured for me to be able to make any definitive statements about them.
There’s a lot more to say here. About playing this and other augmented reality games at sites like cemeteries, war memorials, monuments, museums, art installations, gentrifying spaces; about space, interaction, memory, and human geography. I have really just begun to scratch the surface, and I welcome contributions.
*I used the Vietnam War Memorial as an example here, but this discussion can apply to any number of cemeteries or memorials or monuments located away from the site of death, or violence.
It was not a funeral, the Dean of Leicester, David Monteith, reminded the congregation of his cathedral, which had been transformed into a grove of foliage and white roses – and the reminder about Richard III was very much needed.
Every pew was filled with guests in military uniforms, black or navy suits, academic gowns, decorations and honours, chains of office, silver white boar badges, white rose brooches and fabulous hats.
The guests included the Duke of Gloucester, Sophie Countess of Wessex, and the Duke of Norfolk, whose responsibilities include royal funerals. The music included a fanfare and new setting of the national anthem by the master of the Queen’s music, Judith Weir. Read more.
This is a fascinating demonstration of the power of memory and the place of a collective past within British national identity.
I’ll say more later as I’m technically at work right now, but look at this symbolism, look at this display; look at how painstakingly this ceremony constructs a continuum between the present Britain and the legendary (so to speak) past.