Youngs “Memorial Arc”

Speaking at the annual Ellsworth Trust lecture on Thursday Apr. 2, University of Massachusetts Amherst Professor James Young spoke movingly of connections between memorials, collective memory, and history.

For this year Young spoke about the Memorial Arc between Berlin’s Denkmal and New York City’s 9/11 Memorial. Young is a Professor of English and Judaic Studies. He has written a lot about public art, memorials, and national memory. His pieces have appeared in The New York Times magazine, Book Review, and Op-Ed pages, and The Los Angeles Times to name a few. He has received many rewards for his teachings and works in literature too.

At the beginning of the event everyone was welcomed by Academic Dean Daniel Regan, who noted  the lecture was  one of the most important events on the school’s academic calendar.

Following Regan was V.P. of the Ellsworth Trust David Crossman. Crossman gave the room a quick acknowledgment that this lecture would be JSC President Barbara Murphy’s last year in attendance of the lecture as the president of the college. He then went on to introduce Young and talked about his works in literature.

Young was one out of five jurors who chose the design for the Denkmal holocaust memorial in Berlin, Germany. This was one of the main reasons why he was asked to help decide the design for New York City’s 9/11 memorial.

He said that by April of 2003 the design team had received 13,890 registrations for designs to be reviewed by them. After all designs were viewed, Young said the team chose Peter Walker’s design, which consisted of an abacas grid of trees to fill the plaza along with two big waterfalls where the towers once stood.

“During the whole process we were not allowed to talk to the press until we settled on a design,” said Young. The design team finally settled on a piece and announced that they had chosen Michael Arad and Peter Walker’s design. Soon after this was announced one of the first questions that Young was asked by a reporter was, “Haven’t you basically chosen another holocaust monument?” The reporter knew that Young had been involved with the design chosen for Denkmal. Young said that the question seemed to stump him.

After Young was asked this question he said that his mind was rushing around recalling almost every monument or memorial ever built. He used the Vietnam memorial as it compared to the World War One memorial. “Both of these memorials were designed to make people descend and then ascend into memory,” said Young. He also mentioned how he was thinking about many other memorials from Germany and how and why they were designed and installed the way they were. “By now I am still formulating my answer to reporter’s question,” said Young.

Young mentioned that he was thinking about how roughly 1.4 billion people around the world watched the Twin Towers fall on live television. “This was a freezing moment that destroyed and displaced life,” said Young.

During the 6-month anniversary of the towers being destroyed the city help the first ceremony with the towers of light. “This was a step to taking the emphasis off the towers and put it back on the people who were lost,” says Young. By the time the first anniversary of the tragic event took place in September of 2002 all of the rubble from the wreckage of the Twin Towers had been cleaned up.

Young noted that the process of poring over the thousands of submissions  was exhausting as it was fascinating.   “We laughed and cried over entries,” said Young. “It was a very overwhelming process.”
He mentioned that the team could see that many of the pieces they looked at had several hundred human work hours involved with them. Arad and Walker’s design won by a vote of 10-3. The design featured two giant square waterfalls that seem to drop from the city using water from the Hudson River, and it’s all surrounded by a grid of trees. The memorial went under construction and opened on Sept. 11, 2011.

Now that Young had looked back into everything he could to possibly help him come up with an answer to the reporter’s question he finally had one. “The Sept. 11 2001 Memorial is an arc of memorial vernacular between Berlin and New York,” said Young.

The Ellsworth Trust was established in 1983, and was endowed by Professor Robert A. Ellsworth. Professor Ellsworth taught history and government at JSC from 1957 until 1973 and died in 1994 after having traveled around the world and settling in Marco Island, Florida. The Trust is a private foundation that enriches higher education at JSC through scholarships, sponsorships, and other multicultural events.

For more information regarding The Ellsworth Trust you can contact the JSC Office of Development and Alumni Relations at 802-635-1251.