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Roadside memorial (N4, Ireland)
Roadside memorial (N4, Ireland)
Road safety sculptures in Iceland using cars involved in accidents
Road safety sculptures in Iceland using cars involved in accidents

Press Release - 12 September 2005

Roadside memorials to the dead

Contemporary deathscapes: a comparative analysis of the material culture of roadside memorials in the US, Australia and the UK

The placing of a roadside memorial is becoming a common occurrence the world over and the structure and content of these memorials reveal a snapshot of contemporary memorialisation practices in modern society.

Gerri Excell has looked at the themes present in makeup of roadside memorials in the UK, USA and Australia. The diversity in material culture reveals significant insights to the cultural differences between the three nations.

For example, in the UK the cross, the ubiquitous symbol in the US and Australian examples, was rare - of the fifty UK memorial sites investigated only 10 per cent used a cross of any form in their memorials. The landscape is becoming a place where memory, politics and sacredness converge.

Gerri Excell (University of Reading)
Mobile / Conference contact: (Not available until 15 September)

Living a tradition: responses to contemporary roadside memorials in Ireland

Contemporary roadside memorials in Ireland are a continuation of the tradition of ‘death markers’, which are recorded in the archaeological, historical and folklore records. In the past, death markers had a variety of material forms such as wooden or metal crosses, cairns of stones to mark the site of sudden deaths or wayside crosses erected in memory of those who have died in the locality.

Roadside memorials present along the N4, the major road from the east to northwest of Ireland, include temporary spontaneous shrines and more permanent memorials, varying from simple plain crosses with no names or inscription to memorials which mimic graves with elaborate inscribed stones like headstones, stone vases and surrounds. There are also political roadside memorials, which mark the place of death of people in various revolutions and uprisings.

Una MacConville (University of Bath)
Mobile / Conference contact: 00 353 86 8175530

'But statistics don't ride skateboards, they don't have nicknames like "Champ": personalising the road dead with roadside memorials

Roadside memorials make the invisible road dead visible. This paper examines the way in which death by road trauma has been subsumed by a more positive travel narrative that emphasises the 'joys of motoring'. As a consequence those who die on the road have traditionally been anonymous statistics without any long attachment in public memory. This has changed with the proliferation of roadside memorials which localise and personalise the road dead. Jennifer Clark will chart the purpose of roadside memorialisation and the way in which it has helped to raise the profile of road trauma by personalising the dead.

Jennifer Clark (University of New England, Armidale, Australia)
Tel: (02) 6773 2127

Spanish Medieval antecedents for roadside crosses in the American Southwest

In the United States elaborately decorated roadside crosses marking violent deaths are most common in the Hispanic Southwest, especially northern New Mexico. Research indicates that the antecedents for these descansos or cruces can be traced to a medieval Spanish practice of erecting crosses at the sites of violent death.

The Spanish explorers who came into the New World as early as the 16th century apparently brought the practice with them. By the 18th century, some areas in New Mexico where ambushes by local Native Americans were common had so many crosses that the Spanish governor at Santa Fe ordered them removed for the peace of mind of travellers. The name of the second-largest city in New Mexico, Las Cruces, can be traced to the presence of a large number of crosses in the vicinity.

Sylvia Grider (Texas A&M University)
Tel: 1 979 845 5242

Individual and collective memorials: different strategies in mourning traffic victims in The Netherlands

Public forms of mourning, including roadside memorials and taking part in a ‘silent march’, have an inextricable political dimension. In some cases studied by the researcher, a private memorial evolved into a collective memorial for all comparable casualties. An interesting aspect of these collective memorials is the substantial involvement of (semi-)public bodies, entering the arena as initiators or committed co-developers.

These collective memorials have intended and unintended effects: anger and grief may become channeled to a certain extent, as is the tendency to erect individual memorials. The researcher will explore the struggle for the right to define the meaning of specific places in the public space versus the struggle to maintain or restore the neutrality of these places.

Irene Stengs (Meertens Institute, Amsterdam)
Tel: +31 (0)20-4628564; +31(0)20-6277524
Mobile / Conference contact: + 31 (0)6-40355533

Crashed cars: road safety sculptures as sites of mediation on death and loss in Iceland

Along one of the busiest roads in Iceland, sculptures of wrecked cars provide sites for the mediation on death and loss. Addressing how national ideology in Iceland is perennially caught between a backward glance to a golden past and a forward look to a bright future, and pinpointing the importance of ‘loss’ and of ‘homecoming’ in the same ideology, the researchers attempt to show how speed and images of accidents and their material evidence in Iceland offer sites for mediation on the continuing inroads of ‘modernity’ and the deaths and the losses — cultural, political and personal — that attend its onrush.

Arnar Árnason (University of Aberdeen), Sigurjón Baldur Hafsteinsson & Tinna Grétarsdóttir (Temple University, USA) Tel: 01224-273127

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