2 Apr

Geographical Review Preview: Patterns of Disaster Commemoration in Long-term Recovery

By: Elyse Zavar and Ronald Schumann

Article:  Patterns of Disaster Commemoration in Long-term Recovery

What is the main purpose of your study?

This paper investigates the ways in which commemorations produced after disasters remember the locations, events, and lives of those impacted. By commemoration, we mean any object or act that helps people remember after a disaster: ceremonies, memorials, statues, signage, etc. We specifically consider how commemorations change the physical and social characteristics of the impacted location, in turn, shaping long-term community recovery.


What are the practical, day to day, implications of your study?

Disaster commemoration during the recovery process shapes the ways in which communities and individuals discuss, think about, and remember tragic events. Ideas about community identity and belonging forged through commemoration guide public sentiment on what should be rebuilt, which aspects of community history matter, and who has a place in the community’s future.


How does your study relate to other work on the subject?

We engage with prominent works from the cultural geography tradition on commemoration. However, our study departs from previous work by focusing memorial texts (i.e., any text that remembers) produced during the long-term recovery process rather than solely on those designated as disaster memorials. Hence, our sample is defined by time rather than by subject.


What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study?

We found that while some memorial texts focused on the disaster event itself (event-based commemoration), other memorials focused on the place characteristics where the disaster happened. This place-based commemoration often reflected a shared, yet reimagined history of the event from the community’s perspective. This type of shared, collective memory is powerful—it can both unify and fracture communities during the disaster recovery process.


What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study?

We identify that event-based and place-based commemoration occurs during disaster recovery, by providing a vocabulary and framework we can consider how memorials that focus on survivor memories through event-based commemoration impel community recovery differently than memorials that reconstruct imagined pasts through place-based commemoration.


How does your research help us think about Geography?

The concept of place is a foundational concept in geographic scholarship. Our work offers an opportunity to consider the role of place in long-term disaster recovery and specifically considers how commemoration reimagines and reinvents places that have experienced disasters.


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Click here to read the abstract of this article on the Wiley Online Library.