The Power of Place: Sites of Conscience

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The Power of Place: Sites of Conscience

Places and historic sites can be powerful places that hold the potential to be transformed into a site of conscience. This dialogue features resource practitioners from the International Coalition, who are dedicated to remembering past struggles for justice and addressing their contemporary legacies.

The following table of contents was developed to make the dialogue easier to navigate. Important themes and different discussions have been highlighted for archival purposes and for new users. 

Introduction to Sites and Personal Experiences

Involving Youth

Contemporary Uses of History

The Healing Process

Creation of Programs and Methods


International Coalition of Historical Site Museums Plaque


During the week of October 24 to October 30, the International Coalition of Historic Site Museums of Conscience members Sarwar Ali, Trustee from the Liberation War Museum (Bangladesh); Sojin Kim,Exhibition Curator from the Japanese American NationalMuseum(United States) and Ereshnee Naidu, Director of Programs at theInternational Coalition office in New York were our featured resource practitioners for the discussion.


Please feel free to continue to contribute your comments and ideas to the discussion and let us know what tactics you'd like to discuss in the future by sending your ideas to:


The International Coalition ofInternational Coalition of Historical Site Museums Logo Historic Site Museums of Conscienceis a network of historic sites dedicated to remembering past strugglesfor justice and addressing their contemporary legacies. The Coalitionwas founded in 1999 by Memoria Abierta in Argentina, the Gulag Museumin Russia, the Slave House in Senegal, Lower East Side Tenement Museumin the United States, and other historic sites that activate the pastas a catalyst for citizen engagement in current issues. Working in bothtransitional societies and long-established democracies, Sites ofConscience use historic preservation, oral history, art installations,and exhibits as the basis for public dialogues, community organizing,and other processes critical for building lasting cultures of humanrights. Since its founding, the Coalition has grown to 17 Sites ofConscience leading a network of over 1700 initiatives in 90 differentcountries. The Coalition provides direct funding for innovativeprograms at historic sites that foster dialogue on contemporary issues;organizes learning exchanges among member sites, from 1-1collaborations to international conferences; and conducts strategicadvocacy on behalf of member sites and the Sites of Consciencemovement.

Liberation War Museum

Liberiation War Museum ExhibitThe Liberation War Museumwas established in March 22, 1996, by a Board of Trustees so thatfuture generations can learn about the genocide unleashed by Pakistan military rulers and their fundamentalist collaborators; the heroicresistance of a united people; and international support fromgovernments, public leaders, and media that led to the emergence of Bangladesh as a secular democratic state. The Liberation War Museum, with the help of the Bangladesh Army, excavated two killing fields and displays the uncovered human remains of martyrs. The Liberation WarMuseum focuses on the young generation through its Outreach and Mobile Museum for students and endeavors to link the contemporary issues of communal harmony against human rights abuses and fundamentalist tendencies to uphold the ideals of the liberation war (e g. democracy, secularism and nationalism) as incorporated in the 1972 Bangladesh constitution.

Japanese American National Museum Exhibit

Japanese American National Museum

The Japanese American National Museum is dedicated to promotingunderstanding and appreciation for America’s diversity by sharing theJapanese American story. It is affiliated with the National Center forthe Preservation of Democracy, founded to promote principles ofdemocracy and to inspire civic participation. The Nishi HongwanjiBuddhist Temple was built as a place of worship in 1925 in Little Tokyoand was later designated an assembly point for thousands of JapaneseAmerican citizens prior to their removal to one of the 10 U.S.concentration camps. The Temple housed the Japanese American NationalMuseum from 1992 to 2000. In fall of 2004, it was transformed into theheadquarters of the National Center for the Preservation of Democracywhose mission is to promote principles of democracy and civicparticipation. The National Center and the Japanese American NationalMuseum are connected by a public plaza and together constitute animportant site for civic life.


Share your own sites of memory or historical power places in your community that hold the potential to be transformed into a site of conscience. Talk with the discussion resource practitioners from the International Coalition about you can start to build it.

Power of place

Liberation War Museum(LWM), established in 1996, commemorates pain and glories of emergence of Bangladesh in 1971 as democratic secular state from Islamic Republic of Pakistan ruled by millitary. During liberation war some 3 million people were killed; 200,000 women sexually abused by Pakistan army actively supported by local religious fundamentalist forces. These forces are now active with international links and resorting to both constitutional and violent methods to destroy democratic secular basis of Bangladesh. Then, US lead" war on terrorism" aleniates democratic and HR activism in this muslim majority country.

LWM,one of the founder member of International Coalition Of Historic Site Museums Of Conscience,endevours to link history of liberation war to address contemporary challenges of mainstrem issues of HR and strenthening democratic institutions through following:

1.Conventional museum:traces the struggle during pakistan period for democracy and defence of national culture;sacrifices during liberation war and expose collaboration of fundamentalist forces in killing,destruction and rape.

2.Preseving killing fields of 1971 genocide.  Every saturday at this site students (40-60) listen to relations of victims and interactive discussionheld linking it with current HR situation.The site lists some 500 killing fields with call for local initiative to preseve them and simmilar civic engagements.

3.Major emphasis is on educating the new generation.Through outreach programme, a large bus carrying the history through some 300 exhibits, stations itself in village school with follwing programme

a.Students visit travelling museum: know how their motherland got liberated with roles of fundamentalist collaborators.

b.Easy to understand illustrations of covenants of Universal declaration of Human Rights; how they were abused in 1971 and create space for reflections on current status

c.Encourage students to collect oral history of 1971 by enterviwing elders in family and neighborhood; rich archive created and they get personally involved with 1971 tragedies.

d. Teachers network developed that meet every qtr

Between 2001 and August 357254 students from 326 schools and colleges participated and over 4000 oral history reports collected by students.

Purely basing on distintive features of local rather complicated  situation, LWM try to activate the past to address contemporary HR issues and have received overwhelming public and media support. As other Coalition members,we are not active or passive responders to HR abuses worldover but try to use memory of gross HR violation of the past to create space for reflection  on present

insights to the wayward children of the universe

Here's something I posted on the interTactica blog and wanted to share it with all of you visiting the Power of Place goes...

 As the International Coalition of Historic Site Museums of Conscience, the glue that keeps us together is the belief that it is our obligation as historic sites to faciliate processes where the public can draw connections between the history of our site and its contemporary implications. The primary goal of our sites - all of which find themselves in varying socio-political and economic contexts, is that we all strive to faciliatate dialogues and debate on current social issues and within that process foster humanitarian and democratic values. However, while we may seem the wayward children of the universe, the practices of using memory of place is becoming more integrated into peacebuilding and post-conflict transitional justice processes.Not only do musuems and monuments provide safe spaces to discuss sensitive social issues that still remain shadows on the not too distant horizon but they also enable us to overcome barriers of age, race, sex, nationality and class in the very collective nature of the experience that our sites provide....who knows in the not too distant future many of the 'stars' may just be jumping the fence.....    

Power of place

More and more of my undergraduate students appear to be visual and experiential learners; my daughter's middle school friends are the same. Talk to them about history and they tune out, show them a video and there is a distinct heightening of interest and engagement. Take them to a site of atrocity and the effect is multiplied many times over.

I will never forget my own visit to Dachau as a student and the sight of the thousands of pairs of shoes of the victims; likewise visiting Tuol Sleng genocide museum, situated in a former high school which was used as a security prison under the Khmer Rouge, in Cambodia and seeing the photos of the thousands of victims, usually wearing glasses and victimized for being 'intellectuals' . Such sites of conscience link us to the individual victims, we can imagine walking in their place.

It is impossible to visit such sites and not be outraged at man's inhumanity to man; reflect on what possesses one group of people to target, torture and kill another and to make a personal commitment to support educational efforts that help to move beyond the history books to a more personal connection, outrage and, hopefully, activisim in the field of human rights. People say that you have to experience something to really understand it: sites of conscience are the nearest most people, fortunately, will come to experiencing atrocitiies personally.

We do not pay enough attention in this country to history but one group, at Whitwell Middle School has created a Children's Holocaust Museum in an old railway carriage and collected six million paper clips to symbolize individual Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Their project has been featured in a book and a movie "Six Million paper clips: the making of a Children's Holocaust Memorial": Their slogan is "Change the World One Class at a Time".

Memory and Trauma


I was especially struck with the work of the Liberation War Museum
in terms of their engagement of young people to collect stories from their
relatives, neighbors and those who survived the liberation war.

Being a part of collecting these living memories can be very
powerful but the act of listening to these stories can be tremendously healing
for those who tell their stories. I came across an excellent resource, Archives
News, Vol: 1, 2007, from South
Africa. Here is the link:

One example is the article, “Trauma, Resilience and
Reconciliation: Sinomlando’s Psycho-Social Intervention in Kwazlulu-Natal”
provides another kind of example for power of place. Oral histories are written
down and this transcribed document is placed in a family memory box – a place
for safe keeping.

This memory box idea mad me think that the historical museum sites of conscience serve
the purpose of a larger “box” for containing the memories of many. These are also
powerful places in the process of healing individual as well as collective trauma. Here at the Center for Victims of Torture, we know the tremendous importance of providing survivors a place to give voice to their experiences and memories, be heard and believed, so they can incorporate this past into their present to make it possible to move into the future.

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics Program Manager

Looking to thje past for perspective on the future

Following on to the comment posted by Eresh on the CONTEMPORARY power of historic sites I reread the NT tactical notebook, The Power of Place, 2004.  In my last comment I focussed on a) truth seeking and building a culture of "never again" - but of course this only goes so far and as more recent genocides follow on past ones, it clearly is not enough to rely on the past to deter the same mistakes in the future.

Moving on past  b) reparation and c) reconciliation, I want to focus on d) civic engagement. The Coalition of Historic Site Museums of Conscience in its founding declaration stated " We hold in common the belief that it is the obligation of historic sites to assist the public in drawing connections between the hsitory of our site and its comtemporary implications.  We view stimulating dialogue on pressing social issues  and promtoing humanitarian and democratic values as a primary function." The notebook gives marvellous examples of this: whether it be sweatshops and the contemporary struggles of immigrants and the history of the garment industry or the Gulag Museum dating from Stalin's time that now hosts facilitated contemporary discussions about the state of democracy in Russia which has only deteriorated since the publication of the NT notebook in 2004.. 

The key to the success of the tactic of linking the past to the present is that "it only works if it is sustained and engages many different constitutencies on many levels".  And sites can also commemorate the positive, for example the Eleanor Roosevelet National Historic Site, while still recognizing that we have miles to go.

Trained facilitators who can lead discussions, conduct conflict resolution activities and help to foster active civic engagement are crucial. In the case of the discussions about the garment industry, it was possible to address difficult contemporary issues by putting it in the context of the past and creating the necessary distance. By looking at individual stories of garment workers, the issues were humanized and became less abstract and by hosting the discussions in the Museum's Tenement Kitchen, participants were taken out of their daily comfort zone and given a tangible sense of the history and emotion of the issues and of their link to that history.

Finally, Russia. Putin seems set to try and stay in power in some capacity or another. He and the majority of his top officials, are former KGB agents. Press freedom is not only suppressed but journalists lives are in danger, as are those voices of opposition in any sector in contemporary Russia. The not for profit sector has been severely restrained, and restrictions put upon those international NGOs that operate in Russia. In 2004, 53% of Russian citizens supported Stalin's policies and practices. So the Gulag Museum has a crucial role in serving as an educational center, in trying to build a culture that supports human rights and democracy and in helping citizens to understand that they each have a role to play in guaranteeing the future of  democracy in Russia. In particular, the work of the Museum with school children and curricula is pivotal. The importance of looking to the past for perspective on the future is all too graphically illustrated by the direction that Russia is taking today. The future of democracy in Russia is not going to be assured by its current leadership, citizens need to speak truth to power and become engaged in a hurry .




the past as a lens to the future???

I fully agree with Satwood that while sites of memory aim in their very design to integrate a variety of objectives including contributions to  processes of healing and reconciliation; serving as a form of symbolic reparations; as well as building a culture of "never again" the recurrence of cyclical patterns of  violence on the international arena points to the very fact that  it is "not enough to rely on the past to deter the same mistakes in the future." As Coalition members rightly argue, it is necessary that the power of place be harnessed through creative and innovative programming which should ideally start at the very beginning of the development phase of the site. At Constitution Hill in South Africa for example, dialogues began at the feasibility study  phase. Learners were taken on a walk through of the site that was still under construction and viewed a temporary exhibition. Learners then participated in a discussion about how they would want the site to be developed; what were their reflections; reactions and feelings towards the site and exhibition etc. Initial reactions of learners ranged from relief that Apartheid was over and agreed that the story of Constition Hill was an important story to be told;  while others however, had strong emotive responses of anger and sadness, where one learner even described her feelings as 'hatred.' However, through the debriefing process learners were able to constructively reflect, dialogue and debrief about their experiences as well as better understand some of their own realities of race, identity and social justice.  

On the other hand in Rwanda for example, while there are numerous sites of memory,  there is no programming at many sites. Given that genocide permeated every aspect of life in Rwanda, affecting the population of an entire country, there are numerous mass grave sites that can be found at almost every street corner.  However, given the lack of programming at many of sites, the silences around the genocide remain prevalent and continue to feed into a culture of silence that  remains an underlying tension that could erupt into divsions at any point in time. Furthermore, a visitor to any of the sites can not even begin to imagine the horror of the genocide let alone get ones head around the  inhumaity of it all. The lack of debriefing, leaves the visitor feeling devastated, demoralised and unable to fully come to terms with the experience. One can only wonder about the kind of re-traumatisation, anger, shame and fear that local visiors get from visiting these sites. While it is unquestionable that the power of many of the sites do lie in their unembellished honesty of the events that  occurred there, it is necessary, as has been pointed out by many in Rwandan civil society,  that it is only through programming at these sites and the education of a new generation that non-repetition of the past can become a real vision.   

However, it is also importnat for us to note that for many of the post-conflict/post-transition generation  living in a globalised world, history and the past are fast becoming irrelavent as many feel that it does not impact on their present lives and makes no sense to their own realities. Important for Sites of Conscience, is how best do we harness youth interests and make the past relevant to their contexts so as to begin imagining a future of never again. Something that I have been pondering for  a while however (and an argument of many youth dialogue discussions) is why do we have remember? can non-repetition of the past be achieved through selective remebering or selective forgetting? Should we allow current and future generations to live in blissful amnesia? Can we truly imagine a future of  never-again?


We apologize for entering

We apologize for entering the discussion so late—but we’ve appreciated all of the comments and issues raised thus far, and they resonate very strongly with us here at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. How do we engage different constituents in the history/experiences related to our sites? How do we sustain these over time? How can we create experiences for our partners and visitors that enable them to empathize, if not identify, with what other people have gone through? How do we create educational programs that tie the history of the site to contemporary issues that require debate, dialogue, and action????  

Our institution, the Japanese American National Museum, was founded in the mid-1980s in “Little Tokyo” the historic heart of Southern California’s Japanese American community. Part of our campus occupies the former Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, which was built in 1925. A site of spiritual, cultural, and social significance, the building took on an additional layer of meaning during World War II. In 1942, President Roosevelt signed an Executive Order that enabled the forced removal and incarceration of all people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast of the United States. The Nishi Hongwanji Temple was one of the sites from which Los Angeles Japanese Americans were ordered to assemble for their removal from the area. Provided only a week to dispose of their property and only permitted to transport what they could carry, many of people stored their belongings in the temple, which was under the stewardship of Reverend Julius Goldwater, a Jewish convert to Buddhism. When Japanese Americans were permitted to return to the West Coast, the Temple became a temporary shelter for those who no longer had homes. 

Today, this building houses the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy (NCPD), an educational program of the Japanese American National Museum. The NCPD’s mission is to provide resources and space for dialogue and action around the subject of democracy, emphasizing in particular the role and power of the individual to ensure and expand its principles and implementation.  The development of our programs emphasize three core ideas: 1) we, the people, shape democracy; 2) I, too, shape democracry; and 3) those who have struggled for freedom and equality have extended democracy's reach for all.

We cannot over-emphasize how key dialogue and action are to this work. Our institution grew out of a community movement that took almost 40 years to mobilize. After their World War II incarceration, Japanese Americans focused their attention on rebuilding their families and communities. Memories of their experiences were effectively buried by silence and a refusal to discuss the past. It wasn’t until the civil rights movements of the 1960s and early 1970s that people began to speak out and take action—realizing the dangers of forgetting and the importance of preventing the reoccurrence of past mistakes. 



Housed in sanctuary hall of the former Buddhist Temple, the NCPD created an interactive exhibition called Fighting for Democracy: Who is the "we" in "We, the people" as a way to stimulate free-choice learning, collaborative learning, and peer-to-peer dialogue around stories of real men and women of diverse ethnic backgrounds who fought on behalf of democracy during World War II and the personal choices they made in light of the discrimination they faced.


 Another exciting program of NCPD is “Dilemmas + Decisions,” a youth media project. Now working with our second cycle of youth media partners, we are intrigued by ways these youth are documenting their thoughts and using media as a social tool to explore the issue of “citizenship.” In very different ways, they are expressing their perspectives and concerns about who has access to the rights and benefits of citizenship. Today in a post-9/11 society, these South Asian, African American, and Latino youth are raising troubling questions—ones that resonate with the challenges faced by Japanese Americans over half-a-century ago.  

Sojin Kim, curator

Ann Du, education developer

Explore the Member Sites of Conscience

The diversity of the International Coalition of Historical Site Museums of Conscience is quite astounding. There are currently 17 accredited Sites of Conscience but many more sites affliated with the network. It's a great network to explore to get ideas for how to connect historical events of the past with civil society issues of today. I've listed the links to the networks but I've listed only the accredited sites.

African Sites of Conscience Network (Comprising nine sites)
Constitution Hill, South Africa;
District Six Museum, South Africa;
Maison des Esclaves, Senegal

South American Sites of Conscience Network (Comprising six sites)
Memoria Abierta, Argentina;
Corporación Parque por la Paz Villa Grimaldi, Chile

Russian Sites of Conscience Network (Comprise six sites)
Gulag Museum at Perm-36, Russia;
Mednoe Memorial Complex, Russia

Asia Sites of Conscience Network (Comprise six sites)
Liberation War Museum, Bangladesh

Other Site members:
Terezín Memorial, Czech Republic;
The Workhouse, England;
Peace School Foundation of Monte Sole, Italy

United States Sites
Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site;
Japanese American National Museum;
Lower East Side Tenement Museum;
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site;
National Civil Rights Museum;
Women's Rights National Historic Park


Nancy Pearson, Program Manager, New Tactics in Human Rights Project

the role of power of place in healing processes

With the increase of truth commissions and tribunals the world round, sites of memory are increasingly being recognised for their potential role in contributing to the healing processes of survivors of human rights violations as well as for post-conflict societies more broadly. I would be interested in knowing how  programming at sites use memory of place to practically contribute to these healing processes as well as draw broader public awareness and dialogues in better empowering and supporting survivors of gross human rights violations

Young people collecting oral history

Nancy I fully agree that  youth participation  in oral history programmes at sites of conscience can be both productive and life-changing. Almost all of our sites have as a part of their dialogue programmes, oral history projects.  Apart from contributing a piece of the puzzle for current and future generations, oral history projects also provide youth a foundation to better understand issues of the past and how it relates to their current experiences. Furthermore, in many cases, in the aftermath of oppression and violent conflict there are often silences from older generations about their experiences of the past. Oral history projects can not only assist in break these silences but also overcome the generational divide. For more information about  the oral history projects of our member sites go to and click on the site to view their programme activities.  


dialogues for democracy

All Sites of Conscience undertake democracy dialogue projects at their sites. However, given that each region and each site is so context specific and deals with a range of social issues, the questions posed at each site varies. Here are some of the dialogues for democracy projects undertaken by our members

Monte Sole

  • What brought about the violence in Monte Sole?
  • Who were the perpetrators of the Monte Sole massacre?
  • How can ‘normal’ people, in specific situations and further to racist education, become executioners?
  • Which kind of consciousness and responsibility could prevent this kind of violence in present times?

District Six

  • Do I belong?
  • What are my rights and responsibilities as a citizen?
  • How does my city work?
  • How can I make my city work for me?

Maison des Esclaves
How was it possible for the slave trade to develop? Under what conditions does slavery flourish?

  • How can we prevent it from happening again?
  • What is slavery and what is freedom?
  • What forms of slavery exist today?
  • What can I do to fight for freedom?

Memoria Abierta

  • How could society function normally while torture and abuse were going on all around?
  • Why didn’t the society act against the military dictatorship?
  • What are the steps that a society takes to make injustices and horror part of normal life?
  • How can I recognize abnormal injustice in what looks like a normal society? How can I act on it?
  • When I see an injustice happening, does it involve me? Am I responsible or implicated?


Traveling historical site museum of conscience

I definitely think travelling exhibitions, like the bus idea, is the new way to go. One of the key arguments of many survivor communities for example, is that while museums, (especially those that are viewed as sites of symbolic reparations) claim that they are the voices of survivors of gross human rights violations, in reality many sites are not accessible to the vast majority. A travelling exhibition as in the case of the Bangladesh museum, is a great way to facilitate maximum outreach; increasing dialogues in more outlying, rural areas; as well as create ownership for a broader spectrum of society.   

sites of conscience

I have visited the tenement museum in ny and regularly visit the liberation war museum in bangladesh and find both very inspiring.   We need such sites not only for knowledge of history but to relate the past with the present.  The sweatshops of the US are relevant for the garment workers in Bangladesh, and certainly the work of the liberation war museum has contemporary relevance.  It would be very useful if the museums were to make cd's or dvds, which could be used for human rights education say of workers or on war crimes.   Workers in Bangladesh could be inspired by what they say happened in the States.  and so on. 

I also think human rights defenders need to link more with such sites and depend upon these resources particularly in their human rights education programmes

Sites of Conscience Dialogue challenges

Many Sites of Conscience are threatened by constituencies – whether government authorities or powerful victims’ groups – that oppose open dialogue on sensitive issues at the places they preserve, preferring to use them as platforms for singular and simplistic political messages.  In some cases, these constituencies oppose the preservation of the places to begin with.  To date, the Coalition had focused on developing effective programmatic models that demonstrate how sites can foster productive, dynamic dialogue on how citizens can work together to address the ongoing legacies of the past, without calling past human rights violations and values into question.  But the Coalition now recognized that to support its members in the long term, it must develop a broader strategy for legitimizing the Sites of Conscience approach to any stakeholders that might stand in the way of Coalition members

Personal experiences with Memorial Sites

When I was 17 I went to America’s
Black Holocaust
Museum in Milwaukee for a class field trip. At that age
I had already learned about slavery, the Civil War, and the slave trade in school
for years. It never ceased to amaze me how brutal and sadistic people could be
towards their fellow humans. The epidemic of suffering that slavery created
will never be something that I can fully grasp.

You talk about and hear the stories of the horrendous
conditions on a slave trade ships and it’s jarring. But at a certain point,
those conversations are still just words. Important words, but words

When I went to the Black
Holocaust Museum,
they had a replica of a slave trade ship’s “cargo” area, where human beings
were held and subjected to a horrific journey to the Americas. The 60 or so people in my
class were milling through the museum, following our guide loosely. When we got
to the replica of the “cargo” area, the guide stopped in the small, darkened
area and insisted that we file into the area. About half the group came in
hesitantly. The guide insisted that everyone
file into the area. Everyone. As more of my classmates squished in we became
more and more uneasy. By the time everyone had managed to squeeze in, we were
pushed up against each other, unable to see beyond the head in front of us, and
arms immobilized to our sides. It was then that the guide explained that these
were the closest we could get to the conditions under which people were
transported on slave ships for the weeks-long journey to the “new world.”

My classmates and I could barely stand in those cramped
quarters for 2 minutes, and of course the space wasn’t anywhere near being as
awful as it was for people on those ships hundreds of years ago. We were only
experiencing a mild approximation of the number of people in one of the “cargo”
areas, not a recreation of any of the other inhumane conditions.

In learning about slavery and the slave trade I never harbored
any naïve illusions that the conditions on the slave ships were decent. But
until you really get a physical representation of what things must have been
like, it’s hard to even fathom the conditions under which people lived. Of
course, I don’t think that the “cargo” replica actually gave me any full idea
of the awful conditions that really existed on those ships, but it did serve to
help me and my classmates understand that the horrors of the slave ships are
something so terrible we’ll never fully understand them.

The point of this
memory is that the physical representation of the slave ships was what cemented
these ideas and better understanding into my memory. The memorial museum served not only to recognize
and honor the survival and memory of people, but also to create new memories in
the young people that experienced what the museum had to offer. It’s been five
years since I visited that museum and stood in the replica of the “cargo” area,
and I still remember the mere 2 minutes I spent in there and the affect it has
had on my historical interpretation since then. Memorial sites are not only
remembrances of the past, but they are investments in perspectives of the

The Power of Place

The one thought I had about the topic on how victims interact with historical sites of conscience and the various roles these sites play is that it would be important to ask the victim guides themselves about what this impact is for them. It seems to me that having victim guides paired with another guide, a non-victim, and usually a younger person who can provide more of the historical context, is a good idea just in terms of providing support for the victim guide (and perhaps even a buffer from questions and/or comments which victims may find too painful for a number off reasons). Also the way it is used at Terezin is an embodied way of linking the past and the present and different places too. I keep thinking that even though the victims who take on these jobs are a self-selected group (most likely), there is still an opportunity to learn from their experiences, particularly as they start their jobs as guides and as the job itself (and the repeated exposure to the past that it brings) begins to have its impact, whatever that may be. Rosa

Rosa E. Garcia-Peltoniemi, Ph.D., L.P.Senior Consulting ClinicianThe Center for Victims of Torture

Torture Museums

Since New Tactics is a project of the first torture treatment center in the U.S., we have a constant awareness and tie-in to the effects of torture on individuals, society, culture, and politics. Many here are CVT are looking at the latest news and newest human rights tactics from a torture treatment center perspective.

So it's no suprise that when discussing museums and memorial sites the topic of "torture museums" came up. There seem to be a fair amount of museums dedicated to torture techniques from anicent and medieval times. I've never visited one of these, but I'm curious to see what others might think of them.

I'm skeptical that they serve any real purpose towards aiding in a healing process (especially since many of the torture techniques in these museums seem to be from long ago) or anti-torture movement, and I wonder how they portray torture to the average person. Do they provide examples of torture without giving examples of how torture attempts to destroy cultures and populations as a whole? Do they serve to make torture techniques or devices into merely artifacts that someone can look at and gasp about?

I tend to think that without any sort of in-depth dialouge on the effects of torture and the enduring harm it does on so many levels, that these museums might only serve to make torture look like something that never happens in present day, and therefore can be marveled at from afar. Torture paraphenalia shouldn't be marveled at and then not contextualized within the topic of torture as a destructive societal force still present today. I don't think this mindset does anyone any good.

But I may be wrong about how these museums are set up, and their objectives. Let me know your thoughts on this subject.

'torture museums'

Increasingly we are becoming societies of voyeurs and I have read with great interest for example the increase in 'genocide tourism' where thousands of tourists flock to sites of genocide to 'get an experince.' I agree that sites often render themselves meaningless if there is no dialogue or discussion around the issue that it purports to highlight. It is in this regard that Sites of Conscience are so significant in that they use the site and issues of the past , to faciliate dialogue around current social justice issues.  So genocide, racism, human rights violations, immigration and forced removals are not just abstract concepts but become a part of the reality of every individual visitor.

Seven Wonders of Powerful Places

I'd like to bring attention to Philippe Duhumel's interTactica blog where he highlights and writes an example for each of the following:

"Seven Wonders of Powerful Places: How Where Matters...

1. Conflicts create emotion.

2. Emotions create meaning.

3. Truth is in the details.

4. Personalization allows rehumanization.

5. Safety in distance.

6. New places bring fresh perspective.

7. From monuments to monumental change.

Through constant reinvention, sites of conscience achieve one of the most difficult things one can do in the world: help people change their hearts and minds towards ending needless suffering. Moving us from the past into the present, museums of the past become laboratories for the future. At historical sites of conscience, this is how the true power of history becomes manifest: through present-day action."

Check out Philippe's blog for more great details and ideas. 

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics Program Manager

Seven Wonders of Powerful Places

Sites of Conscience do serve as a bridge between the past and future, and are most definitely tools for social action and positive transformation. having worked with various groups such as survivors of human rights violations; ex-combatants; learners and educators, I have begun to understand more and more how memorialisation processes can contribute to healing; recognition;reconciliation and civic engagement. But I also question, are we not preaching to the converted? How do we reach the broader non-museum going community? how do we ensure that the dialogues we begin on Sites gain a momentum of their own and become sustained discussions that contribute positively to peacebuilding and democracy efforts?     

genocide in bangladesh

I recently read with both interest and horror an article publishin the Daily Star  

2007-10-28 entitled There was no genocide; it was a 'civil war' Claims Shah A Hannan.

I am interested to know how sites of conscience like the Liberation War Museum for example can use the power of place to advocate at an international and local level  for recognition that such atrocities occurred. Maybe Sarwar could tell us a bit more about any advocacy attempts that the museum made to recognise the bangladesh liberation war as a genocide?

Excellent Update from the Japanese American National Museum

I wanted to share this wonderful story and update provided by Sojin during our current "year-end review" dialogue.  I wanted to be sure to add this into the "Power of Place" dialogue for all those seeking information on how to transform historical sites into present-day active sites of conscience and places for dialogue and transformation. The work of the Japanese American National Museum is an excellent
example of how to bring about dialogue and a different understanding
around painfully different perspectives of historical events. These are also great ideas that others might find very useful in their
work on issues as diverse as discrimination, curtailment of civil
liberties, oppression and imprisonment as well as community engagement,
reparations and reconciliation work. -- Posted by Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

Update--Power of Place--Sites of Conscience programs, JANM

has been a busy year for the Japanese American National Museum since
our participation last year in the “Power of Place—Sites of Conscience”
dialog. This year, 2008, marks the 20th anniversary of the Civil
Liberties Act of 1988, which provided for an official government
apology and reparations for thousands of Japanese Americans who were
unconstitutionally removed by the U.S. government from their homes on
the West Coast and parts of Hawai`i during World War II. To commemorate
this important occasion, the museum presented a series of programs
These programs—which have include film screenings, panels and
symposia, and displays—have addressed such topics as the role of
grass-roots activism in achieving redress, the role of women in the
redress movement, and the connection of Japanese American redress to
other American reparation movements. The next program in the
series is coming up on Saturday, October 25, 2008, and it will explore
the WWII rendition of Japanese Latin Americans

The museum also presented a major national conference in Denver over July 4th weekend. Titled Whose America? Who’s American? Diversity, Civil Liberties, and Social Justice,”
the conference brought together scholars and educators, students,
multi-generational families, and community members to examine the
connections between the Japanese American World War II experience and
the historical and contemporary issues surrounding democracy and civil
rights. By focusing on the significance of particular places to
individual and community history and memory, many of the discussions
and events—including a visit to the site of Amache concentration
camp—had direct pertinence to the New Tactics discussion “Power of
Place” from last year.

This URL will take you to a page rich with
resources from the conference. It includes links to articles written by
conference participants; a slide show of conference highlights;
participant comments and stories; photo essays; and audio files of
selected panel presentations. Among the features that are of particular
relevance to the “Power of Place” dialog:

A photo album and family history created by Mitch
Homma, documenting the entire WWII experience from the FBI arrest of
family members to their eventual incarceration at Amache camp in

“CSI: Amache”—an essay by Gary T. Ono about his
experiences participating, with his grandson, in a 2008 archeological
dig at Amache, where he had been incarcerated as a child.

Audio of panel presentation “Reconciling a
Contested Past: The Santa Fe Interment Camp Marker,” which involved
different perspectives on the hotly debated decision of the City of
Santa Fe to place a commemorative marker at the location of a WWII
Dept. of Justice camp.

Article by Debra Redsteer, “Leupp, Arizona: A Shared Historic Space for the Navajo Nation and Japanese Americans.”

Debra Redsteer’s article ends with a passage that
emphasizes the importance of place(s) as markers of important
events—events that reveal past struggles and also the historical
connections between the experiences of different communities. She
writes of the former Leupp Isolation Center in Arizona:

“Once Old Leupp was a bustling place with people
abounding there, but now it is almost deserted. At one time, the area
saw an Indian boarding school and, at another time, an isolation
center, but what these two developments—occurring at two different
historical moments for two different racial-ethnic groups—shared was
the experience of forced imprisonment. The land in which the Leupp site
is set is harsh with periodic flooding, vicious windstorms, extreme
heat and cold of the high desert, and very little rainfall. The Navajo
residents raise a few goats and contend with their hostile environment
by trying to better their lives. The reminders of rubble, which are
part of the landscape, convey that the Navajo is not alone in enduring
discrimination and hardships, for Japanese Americans, in the early
1940s, suffered injustices here as well. The rubble thus acts as a
reminder to future and present generations of Navajos and Americans of
the frailty of American civil rights.”

International Coalition gets press in the New York Times

The New York Times highlights the Coalition’s impact on the field of museology and heritage
New York Times – United States
March 19, 2009

Congratulations to the Coalition - they sent this great message about the media coverage:

"The New York Times features the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience in a significant article in the Times’ annual special section on museums. The article appears on page 2 of the print edition of the special section and is available online here:

The article highlights the impact of the Coalition in the fields of heritage and museology, particularly advancing the idea of using historic sites to open dialogue on contemporary social justice issues. While this is an important article for the International Coalition, this piece demonstrates a growing recognition that places of memory not only cannot be ignored, but also that they play a defining role in society today and can be new spaces for ongoing public engagement in the most critical human rights issues we face today. We encourage you to forward this article to others to leverage the important work you are engaged in. As always, please do let us [International Coalition of Historical Museum Sites of Conscience] know if you have any comments or thoughts at"

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

RE: [New Tactics Dialogues: The Power of Place: Sites of Conscie

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I think the article posted

I think the article posted is exceptional example of online journalism, keep it up.

Conscience Un-Conference at Holocaust Museum in DC

I find this discussion very interesting, and I think that it is an incredibly challenging issue for museums and sites of conscience... namely, what are best practices for promoting responsible civic action?

Toward that end, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has partnered with the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University to host the Conscience Un-Conference on Using Social Media for Good.  This is a free, one-day "un-conference" that will take place at the Holocaust Museum. We are seeking interesting and interested people to talk about the problems, practicalities, and opportunities of using social media to further the missions of "institutions of conscience" -- those concerned with violence and atrocities, human rights, and related issues.

Can a tweet confront hatred? Can tagging photos prevent prejudice? Can a Facebook fan page promote human dignitiy? Can a mobile phonestrengthen democracy?

The "un-conference" will be held on Saturday,
December 5, 2009 from 8:30am to 5:30pm at the Museum in Washington, DC.
Applications are due by Tuesday, October 13, 2009. Learn more and apply at



Federation of Int'l Human Rights Museums (FIHRM) conference

The newly established Federation of International Human Rights Museums (FIHRM) will be holding an inaugural conference September 15-16, 2010 in Liverpool, England. More information about the conference and FIHRM is available here:

From the website:

What is FIHRM?

In 2010 National Museums Liverpool’s International Slavery Museum will coordinate the establishment of a new international museum initiative called the Federation of Human Rights Museums (FIHRM).

The Federation enables museums which deal with sensitive and controversial subjects such as transatlantic slavery, the Holocaust and the fight for human rights to work together and share new thinking and initiatives in a supportive environment. The ethos underpinning the initiative is that all types of museums within this area of work share similar challenges when dealing with difficult subjects. The Federation is about sharing and working together, but it is also about being proactive - looking at the ways institutions challenge contemporary forms of racism, discrimination and human rights abuses. We believe that these issues are best confronted collectively rather than individually.

We hope that the world's leading museums and institutions within these fields will support the initiative and that this will encourage museums with fewer resources to join together in this international collaboration.

“I believe this to be a really significant moment in the development of the role of museums, worldwide. It is becoming clear that museums can play an important role in encouraging people to reject racist and other anti-human rights beliefs and attitudes. It is time that museums shared their experience and expertise so that we can ever more effective in fighting for equal rights and opportunity for all.” -- David Fleming, Director, National Museums Liverpool.

The inaugural FIHRM conference will be held at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool in September 2010

The conference will be an opportunity for interested museums and institutions to have input into the development of FIHRM as well as focusing on some urgent issues and debates.

Over two days, the conference will explore, through presentations, workshops and debates how museums can be active to combat prejudice and promote human rights and social justice for all.

Topic locked