By Elizabeth Boyle, C’19
This summer, I was given the unique opportunity to intern with the National September 11 Memorial & Museum as an oral history intern. For those of you who aren’t particularly familiar with the concept of oral history, the Oral History Association defines it as “a field of study and method of gathering, preserving, and interpreting the voices and memories of people, communities, and participants in past events.”
During my 10 weeks with the museum, I listened to numerous oral histories which ranged from firsthand accounts of survivors and first responders to remembrances of victims. One of my roles was to work on making these oral histories more accessible by either summarizing, time-stamping, or transcribing these interviews. While some interviews were recorded in the early 2000s, I also worked on transcribing interviews that were recorded as recently as the beginning of July 2018. Though we are coming up on the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, this is still very much living history with many people still battling with the emotional and physical effects of these events.
My experience working at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum also allowed me to better understand the work that goes on behind the scenes for a museum to operate smoothly. Though my internship was focused on history, as many would expect, there were also interns who worked in departments such as buildings and grounds, finance and computer science. This summer really allowed me to appreciate the planning and research that goes into museum work. As this museum is still very young, it was interesting to speak to the heads of various departments at our weekly brown bag lunches. Not only did they share their own roles at the museum, but they also discussed where the museum may be headed in the future.
Overall, this incredible experience has allowed me to see history in the present. These stories are not from hundreds of years ago but rather from less than two decades ago. However, I think this presents a unique problem as many have become normalized to the event. Though it was recent, it also is now a part of the recent past. I think our own university has recently worked to understand how the events have affected our current perspectives on international affairs through events like the panel on “How America Has Changed Since 9/11.”
However, how many people read the plaque that sits to the right of the entrance to Patriot Hall? Yes, our own Patriot Hall is dedicated to the five alumni and the six immediate relatives of alumni lost in the attack. It has a quotation from Thomas R. Holmes C’68 that reads, “We want Patriot Hall to stand as a reminder of the national tragedy endured on September 11, 2001, and just as importantly, of the enduring spirit of the Mount and the nation. My hope is that Mount students always remember September 11 whether it is today, tomorrow or thirty years from now.” I think ultimately that is what I learned this summer that we need to remember our history however uncomfortable it may be. We need to listen to some of these stories of fear, loss, and despair so that we can truly understand those of hope and community that came soon after.