911: Present Tragedy As Future Americana

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911: Present Tragedy As Future Americana

By Abby Tallmer

A key part of being a skilled and obsessional Americana collector or dealer is the ability to predict which books, texts, images and other materials of our age will be sought after by future generations of Americana collectors and dealers. In other words, you not only have to be up on collecting trends today (many of which in turn are based on popular academic/intellectual disciplines); you have to be able to predict what about our age will become canonical in American history of the future.

I had this principle in mind when, working in my West Village apartment not twenty blocks from Ground Zero, hearing F16s patrolling the waterways two blocks south, I stumbled on the Library of Congress’s online exhibit “Witness and Response: September 11 Acquisitions at the Library of Congress” ( www.loc.gov/exhibits/911/911-home.htm). Inarguably, 911 is, at least, the Pearl Harbor of our time, and its documents will be coveted by future generations of Americana scholars, dealers, and collectors. Furthermore, it’s an event – or rather a gruesome series of events – that continues to reverberate today, with, as we all know, dire implications for our present as well as for our immediate future.

So the question remains: how do you capture such a pivotal yet deeply traumatic three-dimensional day through one-dimensional digitized documents? The Library of Congress sets out to do so quite ambitiously in its aforementioned online exhibition. “Witness and Response…” is divided into many parts, the first of which is an “Exhibit Overview” which sets the context for the contents that follow:

This exhibit features collections that the Library has amassed and is still receiving about one year ago….At it’s core, this exhibition is the story of how the 9/11 materials in this national institution arrived here and today reflect what America has experienced while providing assurance that the record will be here in the future for America’s citizens and others to recall and to study. Within hours of the attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, offices within the library mobilized to record and gather for posterity first-hand accounts and images….Over the past year and in almost every section of the Library of Congress, staff have sought and received an abundance of original material including prints, photographs, drawings, poems, eye-witness accounts and personal reactions, headlines, books, songs, maps, videotape, and films. The Library even acquired physical remnants from two of the attack sites. The collection of 9/11 material is in the tens of thousands and continues to grow daily.