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Public Memory and the Search for Power in American Historical Archaeology



How Americans remember the past is often reinforced by landscapes, monuments, commemorative ceremonies, and archaeology. These features and activities often help to create an official public memory that becomes part of a group's heritage. I suggest that public memory can be established by (1) forgetting about or excluding an alternative past, (2) creating and reinforcing patriotism, and/or (3) developing a sense of nostalgia to legitimize a particular heritage. These categories are not mutually exclusive, and the lines that separate these categories may not always be well defined. I show how post–Civil War American landscapes, monuments, and commemorative activities helped to reinforce racist attitudes in the United States that became part of the official memory. African Americans have struggled to revise the official memory of the Civil War, although the power to change this memory has been situational and not always successful, [commemoration, memory, material culture, historical archaeology, landscapes]

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