Places and historic sites can be powerful places that hold the potential to be transformed into a site of conscience. This dialogue features resource practitioners from the International Coalition, who are dedicated to remembering past struggles for justice and addressing their contemporary legacies.
The Power of Place: Sites of Conscience featured resource practitioners from the International Coalition, who are dedicated to remembering past struggles for justice and addressing their contemporary legacies. Places and historic sites can be powerful places that hold the potential to evolve into a site of conscience. The International Coalition links historical sites from across the world to transform places that preserve the past into dynamic spaces that promote civic action on today’s struggles for human rights and justice.
Tactical Examples Shared in the Conversation:
- “Dilemmas + Decisions” a youth media project created by the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles explores ways youth are documenting their thoughts and using media as a social tool to explore the issue of “citizenship.”
- The Liberation War Museum engages students through an oral history project to teach them about human rights, peace, and tolerance education in the light of history of liberation war.
- The Manzanar National Historic Site and Interpretive Center facilitates Japanese-Americans returning to WWII internment camp locations, writing oral histories and sharing their history with the public in order to validate and demonstrate that the memory of the internment camps will not be forgotten.
- Traveling Museum of Liberation War Museum carrying displays on the Bangladesh liberation war, travels 15 to 20 days to cover all the schools around the area.
- “Change the World One Class at a Time.” A Middle School class created a Children’s Holocaust Museum in an old railway carriage and collected six million paper clips to symbolize individual Jewish victims of the Holocaust. By building this memorial, the children learned about and were able to process the Holocaust, commemorating the memory of those who died.
- The Power of Place, Tactical Notebook: Human rights activists as well as the museum community can make effective use of the spatial impact of historic sites to help educate people about social change and human rights.
Participants discussed the purpose and effect of sites of conscience. The discussion began with a description of the organizations involved, specifically how they linked history and memory of place with contemporary challenges of mainstream human rights issues. Participants stressed the importance of historical and contemporary power of these historical sites. One participant wrote, “The key to the success of the tactic of linking the past to the present is that ‘it only works if it is sustained and engages many different constituencies on many levels.’” Memory sites can facilitate dialogue and inspire reflection through visual learning.
Sites of conscience have developed creative tactics to engage citizens, particularly youth. Some of these tactics include guided discussions, poster illustrations, tours, etc. Many museums, such as the Liberation War Museum and the Japanese American National Museum, utilize methods that help youth empathize with the victims. The Liberation War Museum began a traveling museum in 2004 to reach the schools in its surrounding area. Civic and youth engagement is integral to the success of sites of conscience, as one participant wrote, “it is necessary that the power of place be harnessed through creative and innovative programming which should ideally start at the very beginning of the development phase of the site.” Sites of conscience use civic and youth engagement to make the past relevant to contemporary contexts and speak to contemporary issues. The Japanese American National Museum shared an example of their youth program, articulating how to accomplish these tasks.
These sites often exist in post-conflict, post-genocide countries and face challenges such as information sharing, addressing the living past and helping victims reflect. Restrictive regimes create obstacles for information sharing, forcing sites to silence commentary on current human rights issues or even to avoid past issues. Sites must think of creative solutions to bypass government censors, as one participant writes, “Trained facilitators who can lead discussions, conduct conflict resolution activities and help to foster active civic engagement are crucial.” The International Coalition has shifted focus in light of these challenges, recognizing that, “it must develop a broader strategy for legitimizing the Sites of Conscience approach to any stakeholders that might stand in the way of Coalition members.”
One participant writes, sites of memory are increasingly being recognised for their potential role in contributing to the healing processes of survivors of human rights violations as well as for post-conflict societies more broadly.” Participants discussed how memory of place can be used as a healing process and how historical museum sites of conscience serve the purpose of a larger “box” for containing the memories of many. In addition, a participant wrote, “Historical site museums of conscience provide the space where the broader society can bear witness and acknowledge its culpability for past wrongs and the opportunity to seek ways for society to create a better future.” Oral history projects are examples of ways sites of conscience provide healing for survivors.
Sites of conscience can partner with human rights organizations to address past and present human rights issues. Democratic dialogue sponsored by museums and historical sites provides new ways of seeing and tackling human rights issues. Tribunals and truth and reconciliation committees are examples of ways human rights advocates and organizations utilize memory of place. The Center for Victims of Torture is an example of an organization that employs memory of place and human rights advocacy to address human rights issues, particularly torture survivors.
- International Coalition of Historic Site Museums of Conscience’s mission is to facilitate dialogues and debate on current social issues and within that process foster humanitarian and democratic values.
- International Sites of Conscience: oral history projects.
- The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims a directory of torture centers around the world.
- National Consortium of Torture Treatment Programs national directory of torture centers.
- "Memories in the city. Signs of State terrorism in Buenos Aires" published by Memoria Abierta
- “Trauma, Resilience and Reconciliation: Sinomlando’s Psycho-Social Intervention in Kwazlulu-Natal” (2007)