Place-based Remembrance, Memory-Mapping, and the Digital Age

Learning Objectives:

In this module, students will become familiar with the relationship between space, architecture, and memory. This unit is more theoretical in nature, but will allow for the discussion of why site-specific, place-based study is important. What broader connections can be extracted from the study of the Venice Ghetto relevant for the examination of other sites of memory globally and historically? How do we map, chart, and record the layers of historical and cultural memories that attach themselves to this place? How do different mediums register these overlapping strata of historical remembrance – architectural remains, literary works, memorials and monuments, photography, traditional and digital maps?

The readings take a tactile approach to memory-spaces, as the theorists below argue that an intimate relationship to place is integral to maintaining what Robert Bevan might call the “touchstones of memory” for a community. How we can activate these “touchstones of memory” in the 21st century? What are other, comparable sites of memory – in other words, what lessons can we glean from utilizing the Venice Ghetto as case study? The unit could end with an examination of new theories of textured, digital mapping, taking the concept of cartographical palimpsests into the 21st century.


Bassi, Shaul and di Lenardo, Isabella.The Ghetto Inside Out. Corte del Fondego, 2013.

  • Starting with this brief history of the Ghetto, students will trace a very condensed trajectory of how the space has evolved and changed over time. The authors of this short piece prompt relevant questions, leading to an examination of the relationship between space, place, and memory: “In 2016 the Venetian Ghetto will be 500 years old. What more or less visible traces still mark today the ancient Jewish quarter, the centre of a community destined to influence the whole of Europe?” (n/p) 

Theoretical underpinnings (*recommended: introductions and/or excerpted chapters if instructors wish to supplement) 

Bevan, Robert. The Destruction of Memory, Architecture at War. Reaktion Books, 2007.

  • In the introduction to his work, Bevan notes that certain spaces inspire a call to remember – an observation that is particularly relevant with respect to the globally iconic site of the Ghetto. He writes of these sites of layered memory that: “…a continuity of successive experiences, setting down layers of meaning, can … result in an especially strong power of place – a psycho-geography, an ‘awareness’ of the past (rather than an architectural avatar of a petrified spirit) that is dynamic, handed down by the people rather than recorded on the very stones … If the touchstones of identity are no longer there to be touched, memories fragment and dislocate” (16). This piece will push students to think about the particular “touchstones” of identity and memory that are relevant in the context of the Venice Ghetto, and prompt students to question: what is architecture’s role in preserving collective memory?

Hirsch, Marianne 2014, “Presidential Address 2014 –Connective Histories in Vulnerable Times”, PMLA, vol. 129, no. 3, pp. 330-348.

  • This short piece, originally delivered as the 2014 MLA Presidential Address, calls upon scholars in the humanities to move away from questions of comparison, and towards questions of connectivity. Hirsch considers issues of connectivity through the lens of trauma, memory, and post-memory – positioning each instance of historical violence within ever-multiplying networks; she questions, “…what do these entangled responses do in the present? What do they demand of their viewers?” (341). This work will encourage students to think about the ways in which distinct historical events – ones that span both time and space – can be thought of as connected. This will aid in mapping the ways in which the Venice Ghetto is both a specific phenomenon – tied to a historical moment and physical location – and a kind of “memory space that travels.”

Huyssen, Andreas. Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory. Stanford           University Press, 2003.

  • In this book-length work, Huyssen considers various sites of public memory in cities such as Berlin, New York, and Buenos Aires. In these case studies, he examines the role of the monumentalization of historical trauma, arguing that architecture has become a malleable form: “We have come to read cities and buildings as palimpsests of space, monuments as transformable and transitory, and sculptures as subject to the vicissitudes of time” (7). While the Ghetto is not included in this work, the piece pushes its readers to think about the relationship between space and storytelling. How have stories about the Ghetto and its afterlife shaped the way in which we experience its architectural shell? What kinds of stories will be told about the space of the Ghetto in the future?

Presner, Todd, David Shepard, and Yoh Kawano. Hypercities: Thick Mapping in the Digital    Humanities. Harvard University Press, 2014.

  • Write Presner, Shepard, and Kawano regarding their concept of thick, digital maps: “Thick maps are conjoined with stories, and stories are conjoined with maps, such that ever more complex contexts for meaning are created … In this sense, ‘thickness’ arises from the never-ending friction between maps and counter-maps, constructions and deconstructions, mappings and counter-mappings” (19). This unit will ask students to consider the utility of digital mapping platforms in representing the palimpsest-like layering of stories and memories that attach themselves to place. What is the potential of using digital mapping to record memories of the Ghetto of Venice? Digital mapping provides the opportunity to layer spatial and historical connections, linking audio, visual, literary, and historical documents on a single platform. These maps are dynamic, polyvocal, and participatory.

Rothberg, Michael. Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of      Decolonization. Stanford University Press, 2009.

  • Rothberg’s work argues that memory is “multidirectional” in nature in that public commemorations simultaneously hide and reveal other moments of historical injustice: “It is precisely that convoluted, sometimes historically unjustified, back-and-forth movement of seemingly distant collective memories in and out of public consciousness that I qualify as memory’s multidirectionality” (17). This reading will prompt students to ask which memories are currently “visible” in the space of the Ghetto, and which remain hidden or suppressed. What kinds of multi-directional memories stem from studying the physical site of the Venice Ghetto, and what type of memory-work does its study encourage?

Young, James E. The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials in History. Yale University Press,          1993.

  • While this work focuses specifically on Holocaust memorials, its introduction generates a set of questions: How does the built environment shape or mold memory narratives? As Young writes: “How does a particular place shape our memory of a particular time? And how does this memory of the past shape our understanding of the present moment?” (15) This reading will help students to evaluate how built interventions (or lack there of) within the built space of the Ghetto contribute to the kind of memory work that takes place there.

Can be assigned with:

Instructors might ask students to experiment with digital mapping tools, such as ESRI’s StoryMaps or even simple programs such as GoogleEarth to record spatially some of the information that they have uncovered about the Venice Ghetto and its afterlives. (Each mapping tools allows students to annotate site-specific, cartographical points with layered information – both textual and visual.) This exercise could challenge the class to think about the various ways in which we can imagine the relationship between place & memory.

Our collaboration has experimented previously with digital mapping, choosing the tool StoryMaps. Examples can be found on our websites, under the tab, “digital mapping projects.” Here, we have paired our explorations of this memory site with relevant literary works. The instructor of this course might imagine pairing this module with relevant, literary or historical units found in our modular syllabus in order to give the students concrete “case studies” in which to apply these theoretical underpinnings.