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Working Paper from Media and Memory, taught by Dr. Katya Haskins, Spring 2014.

Abstract: Public memory sites, like all civic institutions, are governed by asymmetrical power relations: the public learns and experiences the vision of those in control of memorials and museums. Critical scholars and advocates, however, seek to re-balance knowledge relationships using emancipatory techniques and technologies that support and value the voices of previously silenced people. Mammoth Cave National Park is a public memory site where a team built a participatory GIS system to collect the stories and memories of families evicted from their ancestor’s lands in the 1930s. This paper will use the Mammoth Cave Historical GIS project as a case study to explore the efficacy of GIS as a memory platform. Relying on theory from rhetorical analysis, memory studies, and the digital humanities, this case explores the rhetoric, politics, and ethics of using participatory GIS for critical memory work. Ultimately, several provocations emerge which challenge the ideal of a GIS system as an inherently emancipatory technology. Despite the goals and rhetoric of critical geographers, participatory GIS still produces a master narrative as a result of its cost to implement, technical form, and aura of objectivity.

Key Words: Participatory GIS, Mammoth Cave National Park, Public Memory, Digital Humanities, Foucault


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