chapter
16 Pages

Introduction

Memory, politics and human rights
WithJoyce Apsel, Amy Sodaro

Museums and other memory sites are often charged today with more than simply collecting and displaying objects or symbolically representing the past. Rather, they also work to persuade visitors to change their thinking and behavior. While museums and memory sites have always played persuasive roles, like shaping national identity, many of today’s memory sites claim to work to promote liberal ideals such as human rights, democracy and reconciliation by representing past violence and conflict. This chapter develops the concept of sites of persuasion, arguing that these sites use history and memory to attempt to educate visitors and provide moral lessons intended to contribute to a more democratic, peaceful present and future. But beneath these lofty goals are political, economic and social realities that limit their purportedly transformational potential. Sites of memory are powerful political tools, but once they are constructed, they are also open to being interpreted and co-opted by different social actors. Thus, while sites of persuasion may manipulate or belie liberal ideals like democracy and human rights that have become a rhetorical foundation of memory sites today, they also have the potential to serve as powerful spaces of persuasion and contestation.