Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Fall 2012

Document Type



Film Studies

First Advisor

Dr, Jennifer Peterson


Documentary films have long occupied a privileged role among audiences as the purveyors of truth, offering viewers accurate reproductions of reality. While this classification is debatable, the role of documentaries as vehicles for collective memory is vital to the societal reconstructions of historical events, a connection that must be understood in order to properly assign meaning to the them. This thesis examines this relationship, focusing specifically on the documentaries produced related to trauma (in this case the September 11 attacks on the United States) as a means to enhance understanding of the role these films play in the lives and memories of their collective audiences. Of the massive collection of 9/11 documentaries produced since 2001, twenty-three were chosen for analysis based on national significance, role as a representative of a category (e.g. conspiracy films), and/or unique contributions to the repertoire. The films were then analyzed for their use of and contributions to the collective memories of the event, looking specifically at how they used (or purposely omitted) footage of the tragedy and how they employed this footage in the creation of meaning. The results of the analysis showed the emergence of four categories of meaning: (1) films that serve as historical records of 9/11, (2) films that aim to criticize or question, (3) films that seek to memorialize or commemorate the event, and (4) films that portray and encourage recovery and healing. This categories, though often borrowing from each other, demonstrate not only that documentary as a medium possesses a multiplicity of uses far beyond simply recording reality, but also illuminates the way traumatic collective memory was used to fulfill a variety of purposes in the process of historicizing.