re/direct: Jessica Speer

Well, the quarter is off to a great start and our fearless leader Greg is in the field conducting some serious ethnography. While he’s gone, the rest of the SSRC staff is putting the finishing touches on a new Atlas.ti training (in addition to the SPSS and NVivo trainings we offer regularly), consulting with faculty on their research, thinking up ingenious new ways to support research at DePaul, doing some research of our own, and, as ever, keeping our ears to the ground for new and interesting research tidbits to bring you in this newsletter.

This week, we outline some proposed changes to the federal regulations governing research. Next week, we’ll get the perspective of Susan Loess-Perez in the Office of Research Protections. It seems that re-evaluating research regulations has become a trend, since the NIH also released a new conflict of interest policy  worth checking out, whether you plan to do research in that area or are simply interested in the rules regarding disclosures by researchers about income from drug and medical device companies.

Of course, it’s impossible to escape the fact that Sunday marks the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Even after a decade, the events of that day are still very fresh in the minds of so many people. I was curious about whether Pearl Harbor held the same resonance for people in 1951, but it seems that not only did many people forget the day, they were encouraged to forget the attacks in order to strengthen relations with Japan, an important ally in the fight against Communism in Korea. It’s the context of 9/11, what came before and especially after, that has given it its special place in American culture today.


Living and working in post-9/11 New York City complicated my own feelings about those events and how we relate to them. For a time, I was a temp in an office at the World Financial Building, whose lobby had a prime view of “ground zero” frequented by tourists in packs being guided around Lower Manhattan, now as necessary a stop for visitors as Times Square and the Empire State Building. They’d stop and take photos of the site, of each other in front of the site, and of the memorials and flowers posted on the chain link fence around what was essentially the most emotional construction site in America. The windowless file room in our office still held dust from the collapse of the towers, and one of my colleagues refused to enter without a mask to cover her nose and mouth. I washed my hands often, and tried not to think too much about what was in the dust. On my way to the subway, past the World Trade Center site, the sidewalk was lined with opportunists selling 9/11-related souvenirs, including framed holographs that showed, at one angle, the Twin Towers standing tall, and at another, being struck by the planes, an image that continues to remind me painfully of thousands of lives lost, rendered in a medium generally associated with children’s toys. Later, when people grew outraged by the possibility of a Muslim community center being built in the neighborhood, I wondered where the backlash against those peddlers had been. Are we comfortable permitting some people to capitalize on a tragedy that is so personal and still so raw, but not with sharing a ten-mile radius with even the slightest reminder of the engineers of those attacks?

For similar reasons, I feel a bit squeamish at the attention being lavished on the date. The media saturation leaves me feeling that the day is being marketed. Even using the (now AP style standard) term “9/11” seems like branding more than naming, though I can’t for the life of me come up with better language. When I came across the 9/11 television news archive presented below a couple weeks ago, I was glad to find something for the newsletter a few weeks in advance. As I sat down to write about the archive, however, I found myself reluctant to add to the bombardment of stories and articles on 9/11. I considered leaving it out, not mentioning it at all, or at least not bringing it up, right off the bat, here in re/direct.

I worry that oversaturation may render a real tragedy a nationalistic cliché, a feeling I’ve had many times over the last decade. However, as researchers, as social scientists, as scholars generally, it’s our job to take a step back and consider the events and activities and relationships that make our society what it is; this archive is especially interesting in that regard. By examining media coverage of the events of September 11, 2001 (including events besides the hijackings of flights), we can see how our discourse around those events we are commemorating now was shaped and has evolved. Social science, like art, is a mirror that humanity looks into to understand itself better. Hence, it seems that the best response to my own concerns over what language we use to talk about 9/11 is to actually study how we talk about it, and to reflect on that.

So, now the cat’s out of the bag. Even when we want to, the SSRC can’t resist thinking about the crucial research waiting to be done. If you’re working on an irresistible project or problem, please stop by, even if just to get a fresh perspective. We’d love to see you.

Jessica Speer, MS

Research Specialist, Social Science Research Center


Author: Jessica Speer

As the Research Specialist at SSRC, Jessica edits re/search, consults with faculty, and conducts SSRC research projects. She is interested in questions of information management, preservation, communication, and dissemination.

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