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Conference Papers
Conference Papers

Professor Paul Gough
Towards the creation of a ‘sacred national shrine’: the National Memorial Arboretum as a landscape of civilian, military and corporate memory:
Conference paper abstract MIRIAD MMU November 2004

This paper will examine ‘strategic’ memory, focusing on the role of multi-national corporations in projecting and protecting their organizational memory through a programme of memorial building and the acquisition of cultural capital. The paper will take as its case study the creation of the National memorial Arboretum, intended to be a place of national commemoration in the heart of England.

The National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, UK was established in 1994 but its origins can be traced to calls to create a ‘sacred national shrine’ after the Second World War. Through an examination of the systems of memory creation, the paper will explore the way that gardens and planting schemes act mnemonically to become theatres of memory, especially where fragmented memories are brought into wholeness through a process of ‘re-membering’.

Now officially considered to be ‘full’, the National memory Arboretum favours the indexical over the iconic, and the commemorative form is intended to be inclusive, democratic and all-embracing. As will be argued in the paper, this has resulted in a complex design where esoteric selections of shrubs and trees have been brought together in quixotic and often obscure juxtapositions that are designed to relate to regimental or organizational tradition and histories. In order to make sense of this complex symbolism, the author proposes a basic typology of mnenomic form, offering several broad categories where colour, shape, design and numbers have been used to signify memory.

The paper concludes by appraising the effectiveness of the arboretum as a repository of national memory, and its adoption by a number of corporate bodies to house their archive of war memorials but also to extend their role as benefactors and strategic ‘rememberers’.