Department of Communication
Jay Patterson

(Re)Forming Presidential Memory in Contemporary American Culture

This dissertation project seeks to engage in the wealth of scholarly conversations revolving generally around the politics of commemoration and the ways that commemorative practices have undergone a substantial transformation in contemporary American culture. This transformation is largely due to the increased influence that democratic culture plays in deciding what and how something is to be commemorated. Specifically, commemorations of former presidents provide a rich resource for understanding how the production and circulation of memory influences the way that America and its citizens get defined as a nation and a culture. Taking various visual and material modes of presidential commemoration as my objects of analysis, I demonstrate that presidential commemoration extends far beyond traditional forms such as monuments, statues, museums, state and national parks, and other physically imposing structures to include much more mundane instances of the attempt to shape collective memory such as bumper stickers, coins, and a host of other forms which are often sold and consumed as souvenirs or collectibles. In expanding scholarly inquiry into commemoration to include these more mundane forms, I argue that commemoration becomes integrated into American culture as a part of everyday life. Because commemoration is both ubiquitous and instrumental in forming national collective identity, this project is committed to studying the ubiquity of presidential memories by analyzing the role that currency, presidential gift shops, and consumer goods sold as collectibles or souvenirs play in articulating memories of presidents. This everydayness of presidential commemoration, I conclude, is symptomatic of the important yet often unrecognized role that presidents and the presidency play in maintaining a certain sense of collective national identity.

Jay Patterson
Georgia State University 

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