Master of Arts (MA)
Primary Subject Area
Olson, Christina Louise, "Message From the Grave: A Text-in-Context Case Study of Bikur Cholim Sephardic Cemetery" (2008). Masters Theses. 52.
This study utilizes Cara A. Finnegan’s approach to text-in-context analysis of visual communication and rhetoric and applies the framework to a Sephardic Jewish site. The purpose of this study is to better understand the ways by which visual communication is employed to maintain, affirm, and communicate identity and cultural norms and values through a text-incontext case study of the Sephardic Bikur Cholim Cemetery. The text is analyzed in terms of sacred and profane space, hierarchy creation, as a voice for the historically voiceless, as a storage device for memories, and communication device for transmitting cultural values and norms to future generations. Analysis revealed four significant findings: 1) The cemetery relies on an American, left-to-right orientation, which indicates a conflict or a blending between two competing identities; 2) Mircea Eliade’s concept of sacred and profane spaces was applied and confirmed in the cemetery; 3) Traditional Jewish roles are communicated and affirmed through imagery on the headstones, and 4) Living visitors are able to participate in their heritage by leaving stones on grave markers.
The study argues that messages, both intentional and unintentional, are created visually with a future audience in mind. Specifically, the existence of Bikur Cholim Cemetery communicates to the larger Seattle community that Sephardic history and the Sephardic people are worthy of commemoration and that the historically powerless group has gained the power necessary to enact their desire to memorialize. It also furthers Eliade’s work concerning sacred and profane spaces by the application of his framework to an actual space.
Second, the findings indicate how identity is communicated across generations in a time when traditional methods and social structures meant for that type of communication are disintegrating.
Third, identity changes are occurring within a historic and traditional culture; this is demonstrated by the cemetery’s American orientation, the “Men of Valor” panel on the memorial wall, etc. What is not yet clear is whether one identity (American or Sephardic) is primary, or if an entirely new identity is being formed that integrates traits from both. If that is the case, it is something new and significant. It may also partially confirm Carole Blair’s assertion that modern memorials will necessarily incorporate multiple voices.
Fourth and finally, the findings of this study indicate that there is a type of memorializing communication that occurs within a group that shares a common religious and ethnic background; this type of communication dictates what is and is not appropriate for the cemetery messages.