Elegies of darkness: Commemorations of the bombing of Pan Am 103

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Robert C. Bogdan


Collective memory, Commemoration, Terrorism, September 11, 2001, Pan Am 103

Subject Categories

Geography | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology


Memorials and commemorations typically reinforce narratives that create and support group identity and solidarity. Collective memory in the United States has supported a metanarrative of invincibility of power and might. Events and people who contradict this metanarrative frequently face collective amnesia. Citizens lost to terrorist acts certainly defy the metanarrative of sole superpower invincibility. How has the United States negotiated the paradox of commemorating those lost to terrorism with its identity of hegemonic power?

This qualitative, inductive study examines the construction of memorials to those killed by the bombing of Pan American Flight 103, the first acknowledged postmodern attack of American citizens by foreign ideologues. This work provides a new analytical framework "Memorial Worlds" that identifies the various groups involved in the production, reception, and mediation of commemorative processes. The group(s) that gain control of the Memorial Worlds determine if commemorations of an historical rupture exist, as well as the form and location of those commemorations. The Memorial Worlds framework is used to examine Pan Am 103 memorials in Lockerbie Scotland, Syracuse University, Montauk NY, and Arlington National Cemetery. Memorials in Lockerbie have addressed dark tourism and pilgrimage needs, as well as the community's needs to supercede its global identity as a location of disaster. Syracuse University lost 35 students on board Pan Am 103 and has become a primary institutional presence in the commemoration of the Lockerbie Air Disaster. This work also examines how a Scottish cairn, placed in Arlington National Cemetery, became the first American memorial for postmodern terrorism. Memorial Worlds explains why Dark Elegy, a work dedicated to all victims of terrorism, searches for a permanent location. Finally, the Memorial Worlds framework explores the transformation of the collective amnesia of terrorism in the United States to the hyperactive collective memory of the September 11th attacks. Public Agents in the United States resolved the paradox of terrorism and invincibility with the selection of a type of memorial that has become a September 11 icon: the girder memorial.


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