Editorials

Who chose the 9/11 museum artifacts

In addition to preserving history and promoting education, The National September 11 Memorial Museum is a tribute to the almost 3,000 individuals who perished in New York, Northern Virginia, and Pennsylvania in 2001, and those who died during the bombing at the World Trade Center in 1993. Inaugurated in May 2014, the 9/11 Memorial Museum is built into the ground right below where the Twin Towers stood before collapsing.

It is situated next to a repository for the remains of 9/11 unidentified victims, which is a separate location ran by the New York City Medical Examiner with access limited to the families of the deceased.

The 110,000 square feet exhibition halls of the museum are all underground and across the 16-acre site that will be forever known as Ground Zero. In these exhibits, visitors experience the story of 9/11 through video, photographs, audio, architectural salvage, personal items, and other objects, as they journey through the museum.

Who was tasked with the job of putting the museum’s collection together?

Even with an impressive background in history and education, being in charge of putting together such an important and meaningful collection of items proved to be no easy task for Jan Seidler Ramirez, the chief curator at the National September 11 Memorial Museum. Ramirez was a museum director and vice president of the New York Historical Society at the moment of the attack on the World Trade Center towers, over two decades ago.

Shocked and horrified by the terrible scenes like so many others during and after the tragedy, Ramirez knew she had to do something but felt powerless. It was the president of the Historical Society who motivated her and her colleagues to take action, flooding the streets to preserve any available items that were related to the attack. To her, those objects had “a kind of DNA presence about them”, as if “they were eyewitnesses to an event.”

When a memorial museum for the World Trade Center site was proposed by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation in 2004, she joined the planning committee and was appointed to serve as a resource member to their advisory committee. She became head curator in 2006 and took on the challenging task of assembling the museum’s collection under the supervision of the whole city and the world.

What type of artifacts does the museum showcase?

The National September 11 Memorial Museum is not only filled with historical artifacts, it is inside one as well.  After the World Trade Center towers collapsed, parts of its original structure were still standing and those structural remnants became the first elements of the now vast museum´s collection.

To this date, the museum has gathered around 22,000 personal items to help tell the stories of individuals who died and people who were lucky enough to survive. Many of said personal effects were literally ripped away directly from the ruins of the WTC. Baseball gloves, clothes, passports, rings, and wallets are only a few of the many pieces that are currently part of the collection. Some of them are on display at the 9/11 memorial, while others are shown in different museums around the country because they are too many to be showcased in the same place simultaneously.

Survivors and relatives of the fatal victims donated a good deal of items, which made the process much more emotive and painstaking. A number of survivors, families and donors were adamant as to how their things were supposed to be displayed, forcing Ramirez, together with her staff, to take a stand and clarify that she and her team of professionals were the ones qualified to properly present the items and stories to the public.

Why historians, curators, and archivists are so important in the world:

Contrary to what some might believe, a history degree is not only worthwhile but fundamental to the education of present and future generations. Historians are responsible for registering pivotal events and recording the history of the world to evaluate, communicate and educate others about past events, as a means to understand the present and gain a better perspective of the future.

Curators are in charge of organizing and handling exhibitions, identifying items, arranging artifact restoration, and developing ways in which historical objects can be interpreted and properly understood by an audience. On the other hand, archivists are professionally trained to preserve, register and store unique historical material, while allowing people to gain some sort of access to it.

In the case of the National September 11 Memorial Museum, historians, curators and archivists have had to go great lengths in order to successfully fill their duties in documenting, displaying, showcasing, and sharing the tragic events and compelling stories that took place in New York on September 11, more than 20 years ago.

These three professions are commendable on their own but when they are combined and put to work together, they form a powerful trifecta that is critical for the proper preservation of history as for the education of those who come after us.

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