I have now posted into my Flickr site the majority of my images from the Cambodian genocide sites in and around Phnom Penh. As I wrote in an earlier post, I think it’s important to document what these sites look like now, because the concession to run them has been sold to a foreign tourism company and so before long the current, almost ad hoc, sites of memory will be replaced by something slicker and more modern. I have pictures of both the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Choeung Ek (Killing Fields) sites.
Something similar will happen soon to the Shanksville, Pennsylvania memorial to Flight 93–the airplane that crashed into an abandoned strip mine on the morning of September 11. One day soon, the National Park Service’s Flight 93 Memorial Project will be completed and the powerful ad hoc memorial that was created by random citizens in the days after September 11 will disappear except in the digital images and memories of those who visited the site before it became a national park. For example, here is a picture I took in April 2002, now preserved in our September 11 Digital Archive. Compare this to the plans for the Park Service memorial–the end result will be quite different than the early version.
I think it’s useful to ask which is better–the ad hoc sites of memory created by the public, or well-funded interpretive sites will all the bells and whistles of the modern museum? I suppose my answer to this conundrum is that both are preferable, and because it is difficult to have both at the same time, in the end the upgrade is probably for the best, if only from the standpoint of preservation. Certainly this is the case in Cambodia, where both Choeung Ek and Tuol Sleng are in serious need of substantial funding just to keep them from crumbling. But something important does get lost when a site of memory is transformed by that substantial funding. In the end, the best we can probably hope for is to preserve images and impressions of those earlier versions so that students, researchers, and the general public can experience both forms of the site.