Cautious Balance: Collecting and Presenting the Experience(s) of 9/11 Survivors


Please join us for the first public online talk of 2024 of the Society of American Archivists' (SAA) Crisis, Disaster, and Tragedy Response Working Group (CDTRWG). 


Cautious Balance: Collecting and Presenting the Experience(s) of 9/11 Survivors     

Jan Seidler Ramirez, Executive Vice President of Collections & Chief Curator, 9/11 Memorial and Museum 



It has been ten years since the 9/11 Memorial Museum opened to the public, thirteen years since the dedication of the outdoor Memorial “Reflecting Absence”, and nearly 23 years since the globally-witnessed terror attacks heralding the start of the 21st century. Although a “born after” generation now eclipses those with living memories of September 11, flashpoints and sensitivities remain unrelenting at the namesake museum charged with archiving the evidence and convulsive impact of these violent events.Collecting materials that help to individualize the 2977 victims of the attacks has been a mandate of the Museum’s from the outset. Less consistent attention has been given to the far larger population of survivors who experienced the day’s horrors and were burdened with carrying forward those traumatic memories.  This presentation takes note of some of the challenges faced by the 9/11 Memorial Museum as it strives to readjust the narrative balance assigned to the stories of survivors. The effort also involves extending the Museum’s collections to address longer-range mental health impacts and second-wave fatalities now rising among 9/11 survivors. Many from this next-generation of victims were also first responders, Ground Zero emergency workers, and downtown residents exposed to noxious toxins  released when the World Trade Center collapsed.  Curatorially, what is the balance between documenting the depth of horror that defined September 11th – which seems necessary to account for the day’s immense global repercussions, including the mounting death tally of 9/11’s health-fallout victims  – and the offset mission of foregrounding the stories of compassion, courage, resolve, hope and healing associated with September 12th, and beyond? 



Jan Seidler Ramirez (Ph.D., American Studies, Boston University) is the founding Chief Curator and Executive Vice President of Collections at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York City. Under her guidance, the Memorial Museum's collection has grown to include many thousands of objects, artworks, photographs, films, oral histories and audio artifacts, architectural relics, archives, and other primary evidence connected to 9/11. Prior to her 2006 appointment, she served as Vice President and Museum Director at the New-York Historical Society. Previously, she was Chief Curator and Deputy Director at the Museum of the City of New York. Dr. Ramirez has written, lectured, curated exhibitions, and taught widely on subjects related to New York history, rapid-response collecting, and preserving and interpreting traumatic materials and their associated human stories. 


A reflective summary of this talk is forthcoming, and will be available on the CDTRWG's website soon.