American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


Memory and Meaning: Constructed Commemoration in a Nation's Capital City

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies/History

First Advisor

Rebecca Mancuso (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Andrew Schocket (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Michael Butterworth (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Stephen Ortiz (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Cindy Hendricks (Committee Member)


Memorials and acts of commemoration are all around us; we encounter them, in various forms and layers, every day. This dissertation explores the ideas surrounding what these acts of memorialization mean, to communities and to nations, by examining war memorials in the United States and Canada, specifically the National World War II Memorial in Washington, DC, and the National War Memorial in Ottawa, Ontario. It argues that the differences between the two are emblematic of the larger differences between each nation's national identity.

A great deal of the existing memorial scholarship approaches visitor reactions in broad theoretical ways, or in response to well-known events with lasting historical impact. By combining the theoretical and historical uses of memorial sites with the ethnographic everyday observations taken directly at the National World War II Memorial and National War Memorial, this dissertation builds on existing scholarship by revealing how the visiting public interprets and engages with the memorials, and also provides case studies on how each nation chooses to literally and figuratively frame its history for public consumption, particularly within the urban ceremonial core of each national capital.