The Life of Memorials: Manifestations of Memory at the Intersection of Public and Private

Memorializing Place

From the Duke University Archives

Gravestone of Emily Johnson, 1895

Death is an inevitable influence in our lives. When someone dies, those close commemorate their existence. Perhaps the most common way of doing this is by marking physical space. Be it the now traditional granite gravestone at the burial place or a simple white cross at the place of death, custom reveals a desire to commemorate those we’ve known. Further, once established, we use those locations as shrines to those we’ve lost. Do we mark these areas because we fear forgetting? What’s our motivation in establishing these areas of memorial? What happens once a gravestone is weathered beyond recognition; is its purpose defeated? When we drive by a field of headstones, what are we seeing?

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