This book advances the thesis that memorials are fundamentally rhetorical and cultural forms of expression, that a careful examination of American memorializing discloses the contours of at least three distinct American cultures, and that shifting visual and discursive memorial patterns across time reveal the ascendancy and subordination of these three cultures and their cultural memories. It unveils a mode of human expression that embodies the ethoi and world views of divergent American cultures--each of which has possessed and continues to seek to possess America's hegemonic voice and to become (or remain) the custodian of America's collective memory.
The unveiling of memorializing as a mode of expression proceeds diachronically and synchronically. Diachronically tracing the contours of American memorial traditions from 1630 to the present provides a nearly cinemagraphic representationof the ebb and flow, the movement and moment of cultural transformation and dominance. This demonstrates why the content of public memory at any given moment in a multicultural society depends largely on the needs and inclinations, the values and the norms, the ethos and the world view of the culture that is dominant at that moment. Within this interpretive frame, responses to Lincoln's assassination--considered as a synchronic balance--provide images akin to still photographs of a specific moment and place that deepen our understanding of memorializing. Taken together, these twin focal points reveal a historically embedded cultural struggle that has significant implications for how we interpret cultural conflict in past, present, and future America.