Guantánamo Public Memory Project

Creating “GTMO & GSO”

UNCG Group Photo

The nine of us graduate students in UNC Greensboro’s Public History program who contributed a panel to the Guantanamo Public Memory Project last year were very excited to roll up our sleeves and return this year to work on our supplement to the traveling exhibit.  In anticipation of its arrival in December, we have launched a project called GTMO & GSO, an initiative funded by the North Carolina Humanities Council through a grant that we wrote as a class last spring.  The goal of GTMO & GSO is to connect the complex history of the American naval base (GTMO) in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the different yet equally intricate histories of our local community of Greensboro (GSO), North Carolina, using parallels in conflicts and tensions between a place that seems a world away and our own lives to show the immediate personal relevance of our subject matter.

In pursuing the project this semester, we split our work into three phases.  We just finished the first, which we referred to as Preliminary Development.

I’m proud of all that we were able to accomplish during Preliminary Development. We have big ideas, including a series of speaker panels on immigration, detainment, and cold war Cuba, accompanied by Cuban refreshments and music; a voting station at the entrance and exit of the exhibit that will help us gauge how visitors change their perspectives during their time in the exhibit; flipbooks that highlight local connections to the GTMO story; and a reading program that connects younger audiences in an age-appropriate way to universal themes (such as immigration, perseverance, persecution, hope, and how the international affects the interpersonal).

We began our work this semester by organizing ourselves into smaller groups of three for efficiency; first, in committees focusing on separate spheres of our plans (exhibit supplement, cultural events, etc.), and then in administrative teams (logistics, budget and publicity). Each person is on a committee and a team, which not only means that we all get to dabble in different areas but also that information can be shared quickly.

We have gotten a lot of items checked off our to-do list, more than can be featured in a single blog post. We decided upon a design theme for our print and social media platforms, booked most of the speakers for the panels, examined children’s literature for the reading program, and researched supplemental text and images. We’ve gotten through challenges like nonresponsive contacts, miscommunications, and have even gone back to the drawing board a couple of times to reevaluate what exactly we’re trying to do and how best we should do it. While there have been some bumps and detours along the road, as we begin our next phase we’re still energized and very much looking forward to further developing our ideas and, eventually, the opening of our exhibit.

Posted by Megan Coker – Museum Studies student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

3 Comments to: Creating “GTMO & GSO”

November 18, 2013 10:05 pmrichard smith wrote:

Hi. Love the idea of the project. I was stationed there from 2002-2004 with the base and Joint Task Force. I followed that as a contractor 2004-2005. If I can help provide insights I gladly will.

December 8, 2013 2:02 amRose Miron wrote:

I love the project goal of connecting the histories of Guantánamo to local histories within your community. I’m a part of the group of graduate students at the University of Minnesota and we too are mostly working on projects that have local connections. It seems like a great way to exemplify the incredible reach of Guantánamo, and more broadly U.S. empire. Additionally, given the nature of public history, it seems that visitors of the exhibition may be more engaged with projects that directly involve their own communities. For the project I’m working on, we’re hoping to use Guantánamo to explore a comparative history of detention with a popular historic site in Minnesota. By putting the sites in conversation with each other we hope to shed light on both places, and more broadly show the ever present nature of U.S. imperialism. It would be great to hear more about what made your group decide to work on local issues, and how much success you’ve had with getting community members to really engage with larger issues surrounding Guantánamo that may not be very concrete to them. I’d be really interested to hear what kinds of reactions you’ve gotten by putting Guantánamo in conversation with local histories. We’re expecting that visitors of our portion of the exhibition will have mixed feelings regarding the comparison of Guantánamo to a very popular historic site in Minnesota. Still, I think making such comparisons is extremely useful, especially when working to show the ways in which U.S. empire fluidly moves through time and space, and often takes a variety of forms.


Creative: Picture Projects & Tronvig Group