By Ilana Weltman
I was very saddened to hear that she had died this week. One of her most significant impacts on me came in my second year at NYU.
My fellow graduate students and I curated the NYU Grey Art Gallery exhibition, “Art, Memory, Place: Commemorating the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.” Alongside the curatorial process, my classmates and I analyzed the history of the fire heavily. Our exhibition documented a century of commemorations, tracing the many social and political advances inspired by the tragedy, and the myriad ways in which its memory has been claimed, contested, and re-invigorated.
Paula Hyman raised an interesting question on the fire’s history:
Who owned the memory of the fire?
She argued that rather than the Jewish community claiming it (most of the women who died were young Jewish immigrant women), labor activists and social reformers had declared the lessons of the fire. She pushed me to think about the way that histories get told and shaped, and to dig beyond a single version of an event.
In her honor, I hope you’ll take a moment to consider an historical event that has been “owned” by a specific group, and imagine who the other lesser-heard voices may have been.
(Read more about Hyman’s argument.)