What is a Site of Conscience?
The need to remember often competes with the equally strong pressure to forget. Even with the best of intentions – such as to promote reconciliation after deeply divided events by “turning the page” – erasing the past can prevent new generations from learning critical lessons and destroy opportunities to build a peaceful future.
A Site of Conscience is a place of memory - such as a historic site, place-based museum, or memorial - that prevents this erasure from happening in order to ensure a more just and humane future. Not only do Sites of Conscience provide safe spaces to remember and preserve even the most traumatic memories, but they enable their visitors to make connections between the past and related contemporary human rights issues. In this way, a concentration camp in Europe becomes a catalyst for discussions on modern xenophobia; a Gulag museum in Russia highlights repression of free speech now; and a 200-year-old slave house in Africa sparks action to help the 36 million people who are still enslaved today.
Site of Conscience
What is the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience?
Founded in 1999, the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience (“the Coalition”) is the only worldwide network of Sites of Conscience. With over 230 members in 55 countries, we build the capacity of these vital institutions through grants, networking, training, transitional justice mechanisms and advocacy. These members and partners remember a variety of histories and come from a wide range of settings – including long-standing democracies, countries struggling with legacies of violence, as well as post-conflict regions just beginning to address their transitional justice needs – but they are all united by their common commitment to connect past to present, memory to action.
Why is Keweenaw National Historical Park involved?
Consider these questions: Can we truly picture what the landscape in the Keweenaw looked like thousnads of years ago, with American Indians started extracting copper from pits? Can we picture what the area looked and sounded like during the height of the mining industry? We certainly treasure our remaining shaft-rockhouses as Keweenaw icons, but other industrial places like the once-mighty sandstone commercial buildings are threatened with neglect and loss. What about the Keweenaw's cultural heritage? Over the course of a century, thousands of hardworking men and women immigrated to the Keweenaw. They sought jobs in copper mines, boardinghouses, and other businesses that, in turn, fostered even more commercial enterprises until mine profits fell - leaving people to reimagine their futures and deal with growing unemployment. In what ways do the stories of our immigrant forebears, who came here for economic opportunity and freedom, relate to headlines about people who want to come here today for the same reasons?
These are challenging questions. To help us, we have joined the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. Together, we ask questions and look at our sites in a more comprehensive way that helps visitors and community members connect the past and present. The historic resources and events we choose to preserve and interpret today will inform future perceptions of the past.
What Can I Do?
The park and our partners need your help to answer these complex questions and chart a path forward. Visit the International Coalition for Sites of Conscience website for more information about the members of the coalition and their missions.
Last updated: November 22, 2017