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Archive of Mourning Concerns The Terrorist Attacks In Madrid

March 9, 2010

The project, directed by CSIC researcher Cristina Sánchez Carretero was completed through close collaboration with associations for victims and those affected.

On Thursday March 11, the project will end with its transfer to the Spanish Railway Foundation and the digitized catalog will be available for study with prior approval.

The main focus of the investigation explores the social mechanisms that occur in response to collective trauma, although the items have been analyzed from multiple perspectives. This first study, led by CSIC researcher in collaboration with fellow CSIC researcher Carmen Ortiz, reveals the performative nature of the makeshift altars as “an individual form of political participation and social action.”

According to Sánchez-Carretero, this performative connotation allows for the description of these altars as a grassroots movement. Anthropologists use this term to define institutional associative movements whose mechanisms differ from the events provoked by power structures. “This is very evident when comparing the memorials for 3/11 or 9/11 with memorials or tributes to unknown soldiers,” she added.

For the researchers, this type of social response is one of the more direct forms of democratic process and as a general rule exhibits two objectives: not to forget what happened and a call for action that takes place in the streets thus demanding a particular response from those who govern. “Hence the strong political component in these type of events,” added Sánchez-Carretero.

Collectively, these events are a reflection of a society deeply impacted by the attacks. “A clear example is the presence of the media in all of the makeshift altars due to the pervasiveness of today’s media coverage. On March 11, candles, posters, cards, flowers… all of the items were designed to be viewed and therefore captured by journalists’ cameras,” said Ortiz.

A comparative analysis dealing with this type of event can be traced back for centuries, although it is difficult to establish an exact chronology. The public reaction following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, could be one of the first documented cases.

The Differences between March 11 and September 11 The local nature of the response, according to the authors, is one of the most distinguishing elements of the reaction to the attacks. This attribute is particularly visible in a comparative study with the reaction to the related case of September 11.

Sánchez Carretero explains: “Studies on the response in New York, show a strong presence of patriotic messages and unity based around the fear of terrorism and the common enemy. In contrast, in Madrid, there were mainly positive messages, asking for peace and the building of a better world. The idea of mourning was built around the city and mainly the trains.

Not surprisingly, one of the most repeated slogan was, we were all on that train.

The literature of the messages and religious iconography CSIC researcher Paloma Díaz Mas has worked on the literary character of the texts found on the altars. Her analysis catalogues the diversity of the genres and types of support which were often intertwined: original poems, some very elaborate pieces by popular authors or rock lyrics mixed with slogans, Bible quotations or excerpts from speeches by Martin Luther King. Many letters to the victims and chronicles about their lived experiences were also written as a type of catharsis.

The texts as a whole make up a collective moral agreement which, as indicated by her peers’ findings, proscribes the minority of negative elements. The most repeated words were: remember, peace and expressions that are synthesized in the slogan we were all on that train. Not only have the texts been analyzed but CSIC researcher Antonio Cea has also studied the remarkable presence of objects with religious iconography on the altars, some Catholic, Buddhist and others Muslim.

An emergency anthropological project As Sánchez-Carretero explains, the project started at the same time as the public response began in the days following the attacks: “Like other professional organizations, we felt like we had to do something. The spontaneous reaction in Madrid led us to question what is behind the creation of public space as a place for ceremonial mourning.

Initially, researchers used their own photographs that were taken where the altars were located. Later on, the group received new snapshots from collaborating volunteer photographers. “However, the project took a completely different direction after the CSIC and RENFE (Spanish National Railway Network) signed a temporary release agreement for the objects and documents left at the train stations,” she explains.

The team then took the archive and catalogued it in a variety of formats and the result is a unique collection of 2,097 photographs, 550 articles, 5,991 pieces of paper and more than 58,000 digital items, including e-mails collected from designated machines in the stations.

The coordinator of this part of the project, CSIC researcher Pilar Martinez, stated that the main difficulty was to personalize and clean the collection of objects. “Each of the items required special care: the banners and paper had sometimes wax candles burning near them and some were stuck with tape. It was necessary to individually work on each piece because the objects’ preservation was compromised”.

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