This study joins a prolific line of critical research on collective memory in relation to museums as ‘sites of memory’. It takes the political relations between museums and memory as the background against which audience production of discourses of remembering is analyzed. Collective memory is approached not as a passive ‘retainer’ of information, but as sets of public mnemonic practices which transpire in specific material and semiotic settings. The analysis is comparative and takes place in two Jewish history museums in the US and Israel. It begins by ethnographically studying museums’ memory media, whereby discourse is produced and displayed. Then, the rhetorical currency of collective memory discourse is identified, illustrating that museum audiences’ discourses of remembering are dynamic remediations that break with institutional formats (annals/records/logs) and establish audiences’ voice and subjectivity. Centrally, the analysis of more complex texts offers a tripartite typology of audiences’ discoursal strategies: (1) Establishing addressivity, which concerns audiences’ self-positioning or whether they reflect on the museum’s historic narration or ‘step into’ it by directly conversing with historical figures; (2) Re-citing, which concerns acts of importing texts into the museums’ discourse, creating new intertextualities and charging both the museum discourse and the cited texts with new meanings; (3) Re-timing, which concerns indexing different mythical, religious, and national timeframes, which serve to embed the time of the museum visit. The study concludes by critically noting the scarcity of subversive visitor discourse in museums, and the vitality of collective ethnonational memory in Israel compared to transnational/cosmopolitan memory of the Holocaust.
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- Jewish history
- Memory studies
- collective memory
- visitor discourse