It's hard to remember or even imagine now, but life was fairly straightforward at the beginning of September 2001. Or rather, it was for me: I was teaching a class of first-year honors students at George Mason University; our topic was the creation of monuments and memory on the National Mall. It was my first time teaching the course, so I was enthusiastic, but some of my students were a little less certain: "What's so important about symbolism and architecture?" one asked at the third class meeting.
The next week, planes flew into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and my class, along with the rest of the world, was transformed. The final assignment of the course was a group project. Students were to propose a new monument or memorial to be placed inside what the National Capital Planning Commission calls the "Commemorative Zone" (essentially, the National Mall, and a few select adjacent areas). The students were to decide who or what would be commemorated, what it would look like, and where it would be located. Not every group chose subjects that directly related to September 11, but it was clear that all that had happened, and continued to happen, affected each group's design.
Initially, I had thought there was no way we could go on with the course after September 11. By the end of the semester, though, I came to feel that there was no other course I could have taught.
Below are some examples of the projects from the course:
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