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Guler-Biyikli, Senem (2017) SACRED SECULAR RELICS: WORLD TRADE CENTER STEEL IN OFF-SITE 9/11 MEMORIALS IN THE UNITED STATES. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation analyzes material practices in the commemoration of violence and trauma through a focus on the memorialization of World Trade Center (WTC) structural steel across the United States to form hundreds of local 9/11 monuments. Less than one percent of the steel artifacts collected from the WTC site was reconfigured as sacred relics and became the focal elements of local memorials, while the rest was sold and recycled as scrap. Based on ten months of fieldwork at such local memorials primarily in the Northeastern United States, the study documents the artifacts’ memorialization, and discusses the socio-cultural factors involved in their transformation from rubble to sacred relics.

I discuss the artifacts’ transformation in the context of commemoration of trauma and violence, especially in mainstream American culture, and compare with the memorialization of other historical events to point out 9/11’s exceptional place in the public imagination. In contrast to the historical practices of commemorating primarily military dead as heroes, the 9/11 commemorations focused mainly on civilian heroes and victims. The ethnographic data from the memorial settings reveal the steel’s perceived power and commemorative significance from the viewpoints of those who took part in the establishment of the memorials.

The study demonstrates that the WTC steel’s reconfiguration as relics—secular but sacred artifacts instead of rubble—gave them a commemorative value that the agents of memory utilized to make social, political, and cultural statements about 9/11’s perceived exceptionality. The steel artifacts are mediums for individual and collective standpoints towards 9/11, and derive their sentimental quality from their imagined (and sometimes real) ties to the event, especially to the deaths of civilians. The materiality of the steel artifacts and their ability to demonstrate destruction makes physical contact and interactive commemoration practices possible. By incorporating the same type of artifacts over a large geographical territory, local memorials create a memoryscape that marks the actual and imagined connections to 9/11. Through its theoretical orientation, methodology, and subject matter, this dissertation offers a model for the analysis of such contemporary material practices that commemorate the victims of violence and trauma.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Guler-Biyikli, Senemseg64@pitt.eduseg64
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairHayden, Robert M.rhayden@pitt.edurhayden
Committee MemberHanks, Bryan K.bkh5@pitt.edubkh5
Committee MemberBrown, Laura C.l.c.brown@pitt.edul.c.brown
Committee MemberSavage, Kirkksa@pitt.eduksa
Date: 23 September 2017
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 5 December 2016
Approval Date: 23 September 2017
Submission Date: 19 July 2017
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 321
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Anthropology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Sacred Secular Relics, Commemoration of Trauma and Violence, World Trade Center Steel, 9/11 Memorials, September 11 Attacks, Social Memory
Date Deposited: 24 Sep 2017 01:33
Last Modified: 24 Sep 2017 01:33


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