Activating the Palimpsest: Historical Interpretation, Uneven Gentrification, and Publicness on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Palandrani, Joseph E.
- This thesis examines the material and discursive contours of publicness as it relates to constructions of historical significance and other kinds of meaning and value on the Lower East Side. It stems from a summer of ethnographic work – including conducting interviews, participating in tourist activities, and engaging in local political forums – at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and at other ... read moresites around the neighborhood. I situate the Lower East Side Tenement Museum’s emergence in local economic and national museological histories, and explain its mechanism of interpretation as a process of activating, or making legible, material traces both inside and outside its building and orienting them toward particular kinds of public discourses. I outline the modes of circulation of these interpretations and tie them to other forms of place meaning-making – such as curation, financial speculation, real estate marketing, and ethnography – as public, collaborative processes. This mode of interpretation speaks more broadly to the ways in which history and future imaginaries are produced and circulated during a period of ongoing gentrification. I argue, following Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, that the curated fragment is a metonym for a larger imagined whole, and such. Such metonymic reading may be extended to financial speculation, real estate marketing, and ethnography. These readings are both the products and contents of publics as defined by Michael Warner. Through them, material traces come to signify different temporalities depending on the people among whom they are circulating. The political act of defining, excising and grouping fragments into coherent place meanings shapes how a place comes to be used, and on the Lower East Side, this increasingly manifests as the intensification of tourism and nightlife in nominally neutral, state-managed space.read less