What to Do With the Tributes After the Shooting Stops

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Thumbnail Image -  By Bbjeter - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

In recent years, archivists, historians and librarians have been asked to curate the aftermath of catastrophes: school massacres, a nightclub siege, a bombing, a rampage during a Bible study. The ease and speed with which the sprawling memorials appear belie the years of work that almost always follow.

“Communities that get hit with one of these unexpected events, they have no idea of what to do with this unexpected material,” said Sylvia Grider, an anthropologist who oversaw curation at Texas A&M University after a dozen people were killed in a bonfire collapse in 1999. “Every community has got a different set of problems that have to be resolved, and it’s hard. It’s terrible.”

For the cities that fill the grimmest of roll calls — Boston and Newtown, Aurora and Orlando, Blacksburg and Tucson, Charleston and College Station — advice on how to handle tragedy comes from conciliatory conference calls, knowing emails and occasional seminars at professional conferences. There are questions that are suddenly both logistical and existential: What do you do with truckloads of teddy bears? How do you prevent mildew? How soon is too soon to dismantle memorials?





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