U.S. Intellectual History Blog

9/11/01: Primary Sources*

This is the first of a series of eleven videos entitled “9/11 De-Editted, Reconstructed, and Synchronized” that  were uploaded last month and have been justifiably plugged in recent days around the internet (h/t, in my case, to Rick Perlstein for putting this up on Facebook).  The videos synchronize moving and still images from that day starting just before the first plane hit at 8:45 am and running through 10:35 am, shortly after the second tower collapsed.

Some thoughts about these videos below the fold…

1)  These videos represent an incredibly interesting and valuable record of these events and the immediate media reaction to them.

2) For those of us who remember that day**, these videos can be rather difficult to watch. Seeing these events play out in real time, with the expressions of shock from those in the images, recall at a very visceral level, a lot of the emotions of that day.  Though I’ve watched bits of most of the videos, I have not tried to make it through them from start to finish.

3) Much of the power of the videos comes from the fact that the material is presented without further commentary.  However, the suggested sources at the end of the last video makes it clear that the compiler of these videos is a “Truther.”***

4) Last week in my Sixties colloquium, for the first time in three iterations of this course, I devoted a week to the Kennedy Assassination.  I used Peter Knight’s very useful little book, which is as much about the history of reactions to the assassination as it is about the assassination itself.  One of the striking things about the Kennedy Assassination in retrospect is that while it was one of the first modern mass media events (the TV networks eventually offered essentially four straight days of live coverage) and was seen at the time as a landmark example of live television journalism, compared to today, the US in 1963 was incredibly mass-media poor.  The only motion picture footage of the assassination is the famous Zapruder film. There were no TV cameras in Dealey Plaza (TV cameras of the day were incredibly bulky).  Today, the media would be present in droves for any presidential event. And dozens of bystanders would be capturing video on their phones and cameras.  The 9/11 De-Editted, Reconstructed, and Synchronized videos form an incredible contrast to the 26.6 seconds of the Zapruder film.  Millions of Americans have picked those 26.6 seconds apart, focusing on individual frames (the form in which the film’s images were available to the general public for more than a decade after the event), digitally improving the image in a variety of ways, even creating computer reconstructions based on the film.  It would take many lifetimes, I suspect, to treat the images of 9/11 with this kind of obsessive precision.

* With apologies to Lauren for this post’s title.

** I add this because we’re already getting far enough from these events that many younger Americans, including perhaps even a handful of readers of this blog, may not.

*** Although it should probably go without saying, I am not.

3 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Ben,

    Thanks (I think) for posting these. Like you, I found these difficult–no, incredibly distressing—to watch. During my viewing I was essentially reliving my emotions from that morning (and from later that morning, as I learned the full extent of what had happened). I was surprised as how terrified I was, while watching, in relation to the 9:03 attack on the South Tower. I think I was more afraid because I knew what was coming. My palms were sweating and my heart raced for a few moments. I’m surprised my emotional memories of 9/11 are that strong.

    Anyway, this could be an excellent classroom tool. But I’m not sure I’m ready to do that, yet.

    – TL

  2. Dear Ben,

    I wonder if you might comment on the format of the film–the multiple simultaneous video sources with primacy given to sound (until it devolves into cacophony). I like the idea of “de-editting [sic], but it seems very much a product of a single human consciousness.



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