Remembering RMS Titanic

Today is the anniversary of the sinking of RMS Titanic (though it didn’t actually sink until 15 April 1912, the accident was late on 14 April). The anniversary seems a good opportunity for me to pull together some thoughts about how we remember the sinking and how it ties in with some of my research. I’m not going to be discussing the cause and the sinking itself – there are no shortage of books, movies, documentaries and internet pages that already do that (if you’re new to the subject you can always start with the Wikipedia page).

I have no idea when I first learnt of the Titanic (and of course when we say this, we mean the sinking rather than the ship itself) – just as I have no memory of when I learnt about many fairy tales and other stories. Other than watching a few documentaries and movies over the years (and James Cameron’s version is probably in my top 10 favourite movies), I’ve never had any particular strong connection to the story or had any reason, as I specialise on issues relating to Japan, to study about the sinking.

But things changed in 2007 when I began researching about the JAL flight JL123 crash. When I approached a publisher about the concept for my book, they asked me for a single sentence that summed up the topic. Without much hesitation my answer was that JL123 is the aviation world’s and Japan’s equivalent of the Titanic. They understood this and, about 4 years later, my book Dealing with Disaster in Japan: Responses to the Flight JL123 Crash was published. Although I don’t dwell on the Titanic-JL123 comparison in the book, the key aspect, the level of interest in both events so many years later is perhaps the most striking. Further, the way in which we remember the Titanic lead me to one key decision in how the book was presented.

When we remember the Titanic, do we remember the ship, the event or those on board? It should be all three. But more often than not, I fear the people become largely reduced to statistics or a minor part of the remembrance. If we remembered the people and the suffering, would we see so many touristic ventures that allow you to experience parts of the fateful voyage. Would people fly on a Boeing 747, served by crew dressed in 1980s uniforms and offered snacks from that era to recreate the world’s largest single plane crash? Would people go on a plane that recreated most of the flight path? The idea sounds so distasteful to me that it further underlines how some of the memorialisation of the Titanic has become. This is, of course, one aspect of ‘dark tourism’ – which I have discussed in my research.

But we need to remember the people. That is why in my book Dealing with Disaster in Japan, I included the names of all the passengers and crew, listed in footer of each page of the main chapters, so that readers may see the names and continuously be reminded that the JL123 crash was a human tragedy not merely a significant event or the destruction of a plane.

Names are important. I have continued to research about memorialiation and have been to a number of other memorial sites. Many of these are for public transportation accidents and became a part of my study Developing a Model to Explain Modifications to Public Transportation Accident Memorials (which also includes mention of Titanic). I have also been writing a number of posts about memorials that I have visited (and they are listed on the previously mentioned page also). What is noticeable is the variation between memorials that include the names of victims (and sometimes survivors) and those which don’t. I find those that don’t include any names to be lacking an important aspect of the memorialisation.

As yet I’ve not been to any of the main memorials for the Titanic. But I suspect I will do. To date the main memorial that I have been to are those in Cobh (Queenstown in 1912), including the Titanic Experience. (I have also seen there is some mention of Titanic at Cherbourg, another of the ship’s stops, but it seemed much lower key when I was there.) Sitting here today, writing this post, in a Titanic T-shirt that I bought at the Titanic Experience, I cannot deny that I got sucked into the dark tourism surrounding that sinking, but it leaves me questioning why did that happen to me and why does the Titanic create such an impression? Why is it that on the navigation map on a plane journey that I took in the past couple of years the location of the Titanic’s sinking was marked?

Part of the Titanic Experience – I got this replica ticket for Daniel Moran. At the end of the tour, you have to find out what happened to you. Making this connection between real people and visitors is an effective way of helping with getting passengers to understand and relate to the enormity of what happened.

Why is it that, even in Japan, the Titanic, is remembered and talked about, but another tragedy, the sinking of Toya-maru and other ships has not lead to so many books, documentaries or movies?

What happened to “me” on the Titanic Experience.

Having written briefly about the Titanic, I will write some more detailed posts about the memorialisation of JL123 in the coming days.

See also my post about the movie Titanic.

6 Comments Add yours

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