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We Need Memorials to Keep From Repeating Dark Chapters of the Past

New York Commemorates 13th Anniversary Of September 11th Attacks
A flower is left at the 9/11 Memorial September 11, 2014 in New York City. This year marks the 13th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people at the World Trade Center, Pentagon and on Flight 93. Eric Thayer—Getty Images

Claire Greenstein is a Ph.D. student in comparative politics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Clearly, it’s difficult to construct a memorial that pleases everyone

Remembering can be controversial. For the past 13 years, Americans have gathered at Ground Zero in New York on 9/11. Nothing too scandalous there. But that act became tendentious when we built a memorial—and then, this year, a museum—to recall the tragedy.

It’s easy to find fault with this type of tangible remembrance. How, you may ask, can a single artistic representation possibly encompass searing brutality, grief, horror, and loss? Is it morally appropriate for perpetrator governments or their successors to build these monuments? Is it ethical to construct sites that attract gawking tourists? These uncomfortable questions have prompted many to argue that remembrance days, educational programs, and empty spaces specifically designated for commemoration are better than physical memorials. But that argument ignores an important benefit of the memorial: No matter how they look, they have a permanence that an empty space or an educational program does not. And that permanence sends a powerful message – that the memory of the tragedy won’t be ephemeral.

That fact doesn’t make it any easier to design a memorial that’s universally pleasing. New York’s 9/11 Memorial and Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe show how hard it can be to construct an appropriate, effective memorial. The first challenge they illustrate: How to navigate the trade-off between information and aesthetics. Too many plaques, for instance, overwhelm the aesthetic impact of a place, but too little information leaves observers to wonder what’s being commemorated. This is the case with the Holocaust memorial. It consists of a field of massive gray steles designed to communicate sorrow, accompanied by an underground information center. But the information center is difficult to find, and the memorial’s title doesn’t mention who persecuted the Jews or even which Jews were murdered, reducing this information to the assumption that “everybody knows.”

The need to balance form with education is made harder by the fact that visitors have different degrees of knowledge, cultural backgrounds, and mother tongues. Architecture may communicate the past better than a plaque can, but successful memorials must still incorporate both design and data. The 9/11 Memorial sought to solve this problem by building a museum next to the memorial, but this only caused a clash: A few months ago, an interfaith council objected to one of the museum’s films, saying that the short movie, designed to educate visitors about Al Qaeda, doesn’t clearly differentiate between radical jihadists and ordinary Muslims.

This still leaves maybe the biggest dilemma in headlines: How should memorials engage visitors? The Holocaust and 9/11 memorials, again, demonstrate this difficulty. Critics argue that the Holocaust memorial, with its rectilinear stele arrangement, has ineffective artistic engagement, partly because of how hard it is to find the accompanying information center, and partly because many of the steles are now beginning to crumble. There’s also the issue of how the memorial is used as a park in which children (and adults, too) play hide-and-seek and sit on smaller steles. In other words, it’s not entirely clear whether the memorial is supposed to be a site of fun or solemnity.

Similarly, the 9/11 Memorial is still often criticized for being “given over to multimedia flash”: With its bagpipe music, gift shop, and jam-packed displays, the memorial is more likely to leave visitors confused than moved. Moreover, there’s been the even more recent snafu over selfies—should visitors be taking smiling photos of themselves at a solemn memorial? Some visitors, whether at the Holocaust memorial or 9/11 Memorial, argue that selfies are a form of tribute; they put people into a larger context. But for others, this tragedy tourism is disrespectful.

These concerns are real and valid. But we can’t let them obscure the reality that constructing a memorial is still a positive and significant step toward remembrance. For instance, Berlin’s Memorial for the Sinti and Roma of Europe Murdered in National Socialism wasn’t finished until 2012, though it’s for a tragedy that occurred in the 1940s. This delay was due in large part to the fact that although the Roma Genocide, or Porajmos, killed nearly one quarter of Europe’s entire Roma community, many people hadn’t heard of the Porajmos. It wasn’t until 1982 that the German government acknowledged that Roma and Sinti were persecuted for racial reasons. Before then policy held that they had been killed for asocial behavior. By constructing a permanent Porajmos memorial (within view of the Reichstag, no less), the government is stating that it accepts past guilt and will offer future support to the Roma. So memorials, regardless of their flaws, are critical in sustaining attention paid to past tragedies. (And seeing as how Roma still face government-sanctioned prejudice in some of the very places where their relatives were killed, and how European Jews are facing a refueled anti-Semitism in what has been called the “worst times since the Nazi era,” memorials are key for making sure we don’t forget.) Their power, in other words, is in their permanence.

Clearly, it’s difficult to construct a memorial that pleases everyone: governments, communities being honored, and outside observers, while simultaneously balancing artistry with information. Memorials shouldn’t be prioritized above victims’ needs, nor should they be created without first consulting the victims themselves. “Failed” monuments abound. Examples such as Marcel Breuer’s aborted Roosevelt Memorial from the 1960s, Yemen’s Sana’a suicide bombing memorial from 2012, and Hungary’s arguably revisionist World War II memorial from this year shine a light on how difficult it is to combine the ingredients needed to create a memorial that’s accurate, easily interpreted, and respectful.

With artistic, historical, and educational integrity, however, memorials are powerful reminders that the darker chapters of the past mustn’t be repeated. They’re living lessons that promote non-recurrence of long-ago conflicts, as well as of recent tragedies.

Claire Greenstein is a Ph.D. student in comparative politics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her prior research has focused mainly on Europe, and her research interests include transitional justice and memory politics. This piece originally appeared on The Weekly Wonk.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

These Are the 25 Best Museums in the World

The Art Institute of Chicago Charles Cook—Getty Images

Chicago's Art Institute tops this list by Trip Advisor, with Mexico City's National Museum of Anthropology close behind

If you’re booking vacations for the holidays, take note: TripAdvisor has released a list of the 25 best museums in the world.

The rankings — part of TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice awards — are based on millions of reviews from travelers across the globe over the past 12 months.

Coming in at number one is the renowned Art Institute of Chicago. Founded in 1879, the popular Windy City destination houses more than 300,000 pieces of art, including famous works like Grant Wood’s American Gothic, Claude Monet’s Stack of Wheat and Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. (You’ll also remember this museum from that awesome scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.)

Other top museums on the list include the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, the State Hermitage Museum and Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. The full list is here.

Oh, and if these museums seem a bit too quotidian for you, check out our list of the 10 weirdest museums in the world. You know, for some variety.


TIME society

These Are The 40 Colleges That Listen to The Most Music

According to Spotify data

Spotify released its list of the 40 American universities that listen to the most music on the streaming service—and what the schools’ music habits reveal about their campus cultures.

The 40 universities, which aren’t ranked, include The Ohio State University, Cornell, Brigham Young University, the University of Alabama, UCLA, NYU and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Here’s the full list.

Spotify analyzed listening patterns to determine which college has the earliest risers, which campus love country music, which school is the most stressed, and more. Here are some of the insights:

  • Cornell students are some of the earliest risers, with spikes in listening around 6 a.m. and 7 a.m.
  • The Ohio State University listens to the most classical music
  • The University of Colorado Boulder may have some of the most stressed (or relaxed) students around: they stream Spotify’s Relax playlist the most
  • Brigham Young University students wake up and sleep the earliest, maybe because of their midnight visitor curfew
  • NYU students sleep one hour less than other students, based on listening patterns—and they’re also more likely to listen to slowcore playlists
  • TIME society

    Turns Out New Yorkers Aren’t the Rudest Drivers After All

    Stuck in Traffic
    Artur Debat—Moment Editorial/Getty Images

    "Massholes" are the fifth rudest drivers in the U.S., according to a new survey

    Everyone knows the archetypal angry motorist is the schmo who steps out of his car and yells in Brooklynese, but according to a recent survey, New Yorkers aren’t the rudest drivers on the road: It’s Idahoans.

    A survey by Insure.com asked 2,000 drivers nationwide about driving habits, and Idaho was acknowledged as the home of the most ornery automotive drivers. Idaho drivers complained of motorists who are either much too slow, or much too aggressive, which apparently creates tension between the go-getters and the slow-getters.

    “If you’ve driven [it] hundreds of times, you know [the road] and pick up your speed,” Idaho resident Eric Leins said in the survey “So those driving them for the first time may have the experienced drivers honking their horns and flipping them the bird.”

    New Yorkers ranked as the third-rudest drivers, and indeed, it’s common knowledge that in the bustle of the New York metropolitan area streets, discourtesy reigns. “I’m trying to figure out if that woman talking on her cell and smoking a cigarette is going to run a stop sign,” Steven Lowell, a Staten Island resident said. “Good thing she did 75 miles an hour up to the stop sign and then flipped me off for not letting her go.”

    Massachusetts “Massholes,” meanwhile, came in fifth among the nation’s bad drivers.


    TIME U.S.

    These Are Playboy’s Top 10 Party Schools

    An Ivy League school tops the list

    The University of Pennsylvania’s “work hard, play hard” mentality is paying off. Working hard has made the Ivy League school the 8th best school in the nation, according to U.S. News, but playing hard has secured it the number 1 spot on Playboy‘s ninth annual Top 10 Party Schools.

    The Quakers are known for their notorious underground frat scene, off-campus parties, Spring Fling and Philadelphia’s big bar scene, according to Playboy. Meanwhile, the runner-up, the University of Wisconsin in Madison, earned its spot thanks to its many tailgates, city-wide celebrations and students’ “ability to drink away the freeze.”

    Here’s the full list:

    1. University of Pennsylvania

    2. University of Wisconsin

    3. West Virginia University

    4. University of Arizona

    5. University of Iowa

    6. University of California, Santa Cruz

    7. University of Miami

    8. Colorado State University

    9. University of Texas

    10. Syracuse University

    TIME society

    Meet Japan’s Batman

    He rides a three-wheeled motorcycle called the "Chibatpod" through the streets of Chiba, Japan

    TIME society

    ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Donations Just Topped $100 Million

    More than 3 million people have donated

    Donations from the Ice Bucket Challenge broke the $100 million mark Friday as people around world continue to dump ice on their heads and donate to the ALS Association to help combat Lou Gehrig’s disease.

    “The word gratitude doesn’t do enough to express what we are feeling right now,” ALS President and CEO Barbara Newhouse said in a statement.

    The $100 million in donations came from more than 3 million donors who have contributed since the challenge went viral in late July. The ALS Association raised only $2.8 million in the same period last year.

    The Ice Bucket Challenge has been a social media phenomenon, grabbing the attention of millions of Americans including many celebrities and political figures. Some have speculated that it might forever change the way charities approach fundraising.

    TIME society

    Artist Hid $16,000 Worth of Gold on a Beach, and You Have to Find It

    Single gold ingot.
    Single gold ingot. Anthony Bradshaw—Getty Images

    Starting today, it's finders-keepers.

    There is about £10,000 ($16,000) worth of gold bullion buried in the sand on a beach in England as part of an innovative public art installation. Oh, and starting today it’s finders-keepers.

    German artist Michael Sailstorfer buried the bars in the sand of Outer Harbour beach in Folkestone, England as part of the Folkestone Triennial, a public art project. The mad dash to uncover the buried treasure will begin this afternoon when the tide goes out, and if you find one of the gold bars, it’s yours.

    But how, some might ask, is giving away free gold a work of art?

    Lewis Biggs, the Triennial curator, told The Guardian that the art piece is about what the lucky few will do with the gold, rather than about the precious metal itself: “Do you take it to the pawnbrokers or do you take it to Sotheby’s? Or do you keep it on the mantlepiece because you think it is going to be worth more later?”

    Claire Doherty, the director of the group who commissioned Sailstorfer’s piece, told The Guardian that the beauty of the project is that it will endure even after all the gold is found, sold or displayed: “A lot of people won’t admit to having found one even if they have. Would you?”


    TIME Laws

    Why It’s Legal for a 9-Year-Old to Fire an Uzi

    Gun Show Held At Pima County Fairgrounds
    People shoot their guns at the Southwest Regional Park shooting range near the Crossroads of the West Gun Show at the Pima County Fairgrounds in Tucson, Ariz. Kevork Djansezian—Getty Images

    Questions after the death of a shooting instructor

    The deadly shooting in which a nine-year-old girl accidentally killed her firing range instructor with an Uzi on Monday is the kind of incident that seems almost inconceivable. How can someone so young be allowed to fire such a high-powered weapon? The answer: Because she was accompanied by an adult.

    “I think you’ll find that state laws provide for those under a certain age, usually 18, to shoot when under adult supervision or instruction,” says Michael Bazinet, a spokesperson for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. “Youth shooting sports are generally extremely safe activities, enjoyed by millions of Americans.”

    Bazinet says he knows of no federal legislation that restricts minors from shooting range activities, leaving it up to the states and the ranges themselves to determine who’s too young to shoot.

    Bullets and Burgers, a shooting range in the Arizona’s Mojave Desert where the incident took place Monday morning, allows children as young as eight to shoot as long as they’re accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. Under Arizona law, minors as young as 14 can shoot at a range without adult supervision.

    The fatal shooting occurred about 10 a.m. Monday morning when Charles Vacca, a 39-year-old firearms instructor, was demonstrating how to fire the gun. The nine-year-old, whose name hasn’t been released but was accompanied by her parents, can be seen taking an initial shot in a video released by authorities. Vacca then appears to switch the gun to automatic. The video shows the gun recoiling as it points toward Vacca, who was shot in the head according to the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office. (That portion is not seen in the video.)

    Vacca was pronounced dead Monday evening.

    Below is the video released by police, and while it does not depict the moment of the shooting, it may still be disturbing to some viewers; caution is advised.

    TIME society

    Portland Plans Tiny Houses for the Homeless

    Homeless in the Pearl
    A person walks by the Right 2 Dream Too homeless camp in Portland, Ore. on Oct. 4, 2013. Don Ryan—AP

    Designed to give residents greater privacy and independence than traditional shelters, the micro homes may persuade people who currently live in Portland's "tent cities" to relocate to the sturdier structures

    With an estimated 2,000 of its residents sleeping under bridges, on streets and in empty lots in a variety of makeshift shelters, the city of Portland, Oregon, is on a quest to provide more safe housing for those without a permanent address. Thinking beyond typical dorm-style shelters, it has launched a task force that will meet September 4th “to assess the viability of using tiny homes as a potential for housing houseless people,” says Josh Alpert, Director of Strategic Initiatives for Mayor Charlie Hales. Alpert hopes the first batch of homes will be ready for occupancy by late February 2015.

    The mayor’s office began looking into the idea of micro homes in June after housing advocate Michael Withey presented an idea to the city council based on designs by architecture firm TechDwell. Alpert says he envisions a pilot program in which up to ten structures are erected on four separate city-owned lots. The idea is to establish the micro communities in various neighborhoods “so that no one area is feeling overburdened,” Alpert adds.


    The tiny houses will be selected through a request-for-proposals process and will hinge on two key factors: cost and the ability to meet city and county building codes. Tim Cornell of TechDwell, who has already met with Alpert to discuss his prototype, says he can deliver micro homes that sleep two people and have bathrooms and kitchens built-in for $20,000 each. His FlexDwell prototype (shown at right) measures 16 feet wide and 12 feet deep and features a sloped ceiling that is 12-ft. high in front. Made of prefab materials available at Home Depot and Lowe’s, it includes two sleeping pods joined by a kitchen, bathroom and eating area. To save space, the bathroom shares a sink with the kitchen. “We could have them built on-site in 45 days” after an order is placed, Cornell says.

    Because the tiny houses offer dwellers more privacy than big shelters, they may appeal to people who are reluctant to give up the sense of independence that comes from living on the street. The micro homes could also be cheaper than temporary emergency shelters, which cost up to $16,000 a year and lack plumbing.

    “If there is a potential to get even one person off the streets, it’s worth trying,” says Alpert. “Simply having a roof over their head may enable them to springboard into finding a job.”

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