Remembering the Titanic

Earlier this year there were a large number of ceremonies in towns small and large, up and down Ireland commemorating the loss of the Titanic 100 hundred years ago. Why?

Why are some events considered worth commemorating and some lost lives special? In the next ten years there will be a number of anniversaries in Ireland. It will be interesting so see how each is commemorated. The Great War, the 1916 Rising, the foundation of the state, and the civil war, all occurred just over 90 years ago. Historically Ireland has not placed much value on those who gave their lives in the Great War. Their sacrifice was largely ignored and was in stark contrast to the mythical place that the 1916 Rising occupies in Irish culture.

So what about the Titanic? How has it come to occupy such a special place in the popular culture? Perhaps because the tragedy occurred in an era of mass communication, it captured the public imagination. It was a big news story. Perhaps because some rich people died as well as poor, the tragedy seemed all the greater. The Titanic movie certainly helped revive the tale’s fortunes, but it was the story that made the movie and not visa-versa.

Many more Irish people died in the great war. I wonder will ceremonies be held in the small towns that held commemorations of former residents who died on bard the Titanic? How will the sinking of the Lusitania be remembered? Historically it was of much greater significance. Its sinking offered the US government a pretext for entering the war. Yet somehow this ship does not hold a place in the popular culture anything like that of the Titanic.

Many people died during the flu pandemic that began in 1918. It was probably the single largest disaster in human history. I wonder if or how it will be remembered.

I’m curious about what current events will have some kind of cultural resonance one hundred years from now. I suspect that the events of September 11 2001 will be remembered in the broader context of the United States’ relationships with the rest of the world. It’s too early yet to say how the rest of the century will pan out.

At the end of last century the US Post Office issued a series of stamps called Celebrate the Century. A set of stamps was released to commemorate the most important events in the US of each decade. The sinking of the Titanic features, but not in the 1910s set as one might expect. The 1990s set has a stamp that recalls one of the most important events of that decade: The Titanic Movie.


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