Sunday, August 12, 2012

Bringing back titanic Artifacts

The book Titanic: Legacy of the World's Greatest Ocean Liner, that I talked about in a previous post, is--like the Bob Ballard video, about a group going down to the Titanic site.

But this group, now called "RMS Titanic, Inc." brings back stuff:  Coal and pottery and a suitcase and playing cards and letters and a jacket, brushes and toiletries:  hundreds of "artifacts."

Quite different from Bob Ballard, who "takes nothing but photos."

The Titanic: Legacy book includes this intriguing passage about Ballard:

Although in his 1985 congressional testimony, Ballard had clearly supported artifact recovery, stating that "I think it would behoove us to move expeditiously to preserve those things that can be recovered," he later radically changed his position, asserting that the Titanic site should be left forever undisturbed as a memorial.

Here's an article about the controversy.  It outlines the differing views of Titanic site exploration.

Should people bring stuff back from what's now called the Titanic Archaeological Site?  Or should it be a Titanic Memorial Site?

For me, the pages of artifacts at the back of the Titanic: Legacy book are at once banal and creepy.  Shoe brushes, jewelry boxes, a ceramic cold cream jar.  They are things I can see in any antique shop or town historical society. Having been on the Titanic doesn't make them more special.

But they do create content for museums or exhibits.  As the book says (trying to explain away the need to disturb what could be a memorial site), they provide
a physical connection with one of the most compelling tragedies of all time and keeping the memory and legacy of the Titanic and her lost passengers and crew members alive.

And in the case of lumps of coal, they become gifts that people can buy in Titanic Gift Shops.  Apparently the sale of these goes to support the RMS Titanic organization's work.

What I crave Titanic-wise is not so much artifacts, but pictures, photos, and stories of those who were on the ship.  But maybe that's not enough for everyone.  That's why the wreck won't remain a memorial site, and is now "the Titanic Archaeological Site."

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