Making JFK Matter: Popular Memory and the Thirty-fifth President. By Paul H. Santa Cruz. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2015. 332 pp.
The contestation of public memory continues to be a subject of theoretical interest and debate. Paul H. Santa Cruz's Making JFK Matter, however, is not the place to look for theory development in studies of collective or public memory. While the author acknowledges that his thinking on these matters has been influenced by Pierre Nora's notion of lieu de memoire (i.e., "site of memory," p. 15), there is no serious attempt in the book to outline that particular theoretical frame in detail nor, for that matter, any other theory-based explanation.
Instead, Santa Cruz is particularly interested in what he terms "popular memory" (p. 13) as it relates to President John F. Kennedy (or JFK). In the Introduction, he defines it as "the general, or prevailing, conceptions the American people have of President Kennedy" (p. 13). Three primary case studies, related in Chapters 1-3, serve as the staging ground for parsing out this notion. The first involves the city of Dallas's efforts to memorialize the slain president. The other two case studies focus on the uses of public memory as rhetorically inscribed by President Lyndon B. Johnson and Robert F. Kennedy, each of whom, Santa Cruz argues, had their own political agendas when invoking JFK's memory.
In Chapter 4, Santa Cruz highlights what he labels "Other Sites of Memory" (p. 185), a potpourri of activities and establishments that include Jackie Kennedy's careful planning of the president's funeral and her references to Camelot; Oliver Stone's JFK, a film portrayal that reinforced the conspiracy themes associated with the Kennedy assassination; and the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, a site for creating, contesting, and extending public memory in multiple forms. In this section, Santa Cruz's analysis might have been strengthened had he drawn theory from disciplines other than history. For example, Craig Dickinson, Carol Blair, and Brian L. Ott's edited volume, Places of Public Memory: The Rhetoric of Museums and Memorials (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2010), offers a collection of essays that might have been quite useful in parsing out specific aspects of the complex subjects tackled in this section. Nevertheless, the chapter--much like the three preceding it--offers a serviceable analysis and a fair-minded evaluation. While the writing in these chapters...