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Public Memory of the Sand Creek Massacre By Lindsay Calhoun

Chapter 1:  Introduction to Sand Creek
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Public Memory of the Sand Creek Massacre

Sand Creek is one of America’s newest national parks. Its official opening date was April 28, 2007, visitors to the site that day did not encounter a monument like those that they see on the National Mall in Washington, DC, or even at Little Big Horn. What they saw was a scene very much like that in the photograph that begins this chapter: an open field. However, it is Sand Creek’s indeterminate nature that makes it such a fascinating “memorial” to study. Further, Sand Creek’s unique qualities and the history of its development can shed light on collective memory and national identity as communicated through memorialization.

Collective memory is the amalgamation of stories, memories, rituals, symbols, objects, performances, and practices that people craft and share with one another and imagine together in order to instantiate, constitute, and reinforce their cultural and national identity or identities. These elements are woven together into scenarios of performances, practices, and textual narratives that provide a degree of unity and coherence to collective memory. Two features distinguish Sand Creek as a site for academic research and inquiry into collective memory. First, it is in continuous process as a production of cultural and collective memory, for there is no traditional stone monument at the site memorializing the people who died in the attack on Sand Creek on November 29, 1864. Second, in spite of its incompleteness as a memory site, event, and narrative, Sand Creek has produced several related sites of contested memory production—both virtual and material—in Colorado and around the nation. Hence its lack of closure and material definition has instantiated the collective memory of Sand Creek in obvious absences that are full of meaning. These two factors make Sand Creek a unique case for inquiry into memory because most research on memorials is conducted after a central material memorial site has been produced.1 The purpose of this monograph is to examine how Sand Creek both contributes to and contests its own material production as a memorial site and to investigate how collective memory work is accomplished in the absence of a traditional monument. Therefore this study interprets Sand Creek discursively