On Arrival: memory and temporality at Ellis Island, New York

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Museums and heritage operations are increasingly employing experiential forms of interpretation, such as role adoption and first-person interpretation, in order to cultivate emotional bonds between visitors and the characters that populate historic sites. The paper argues that this form of relating to the past affectively reflects a notion of memory that is underpinned by commonsense temporality and a privileging of the corporeal, both of which serve to legitimate existing relations of power. Using a dispute surrounding public entry to Ellis Island, New York, via a bridge connected to New Jersey, I ask that we understand memory as a practice generating the past’s perpetual arrival where the past continually comes into existence anew rather than ‘returns’ from what once was. Throughout the paper I relate a number of examples where thinking about memory along these lines, as arrival, can help us question the temporal logics that underpin heritage and the authorities heritage maintains.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1011-1027
JournalEnvironment and Planning D: Society and Space
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • memory
  • temporality
  • effect
  • Ellis Island
  • New York


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