Date of Graduation

Spring 2021


Master of Arts in Communication



Committee Chair

Brian Ott


This thesis undertakes an analysis of the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and the 9/11 Museum in New York City, New York, focusing on the construction of an idealized citizen that is mobilized as a defense against terrorist threats. Employing rhetorical field methods, I focus on how these spaces work symbolically and materially to shape visitors’ sense of national identity. I pay careful attention to how message construction relates to whether the terrorist threat is framed as internal or external, and how that influences what it means to be American. This argument is grounded through the process of identification and division exemplified through the spaces’ highly impactful symbolic and material features. The symbolic features of the space outline the character of the heroic idealized citizen and its antithesis, the “evil” other that opposes heroic values. In contrast the material features of the spaces, such as victim testimonies, audio recordings of the attack, and remnants of trauma, traumatize visitors through simulation, thus inviting identification through shared experience. Ultimately, this thesis outlines how the material features of spaces evoke strong visceral reactions that move beyond symbolic “meaning-making” features; therefore, materiality remains deserving of serious scholarly attention. Additionally, this thesis highlights that despite the heroism evident in these memorial and museums, the material simulation of trauma halts the process of growth and self-reflexivity.


identification, affect, public memory, museums, memorials, domestic terrorism, foreign terrorism, trauma, Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, 9/11 Museum

Subject Categories

Place and Environment | Social Influence and Political Communication | Speech and Rhetorical Studies | Terrorism Studies


© Caroline L. Whittenburg

Open Access