Date of Award
Planning and Urban Studies
Dr. Guenter Bischof
Dr. David Gladstone
Dr. Robert Citino
This study investigates the conflict that often develops between historians who aim to reveal difficult history or correct a biased view of history and influential stakeholders who possess the agency to maintain historic silences or a skewed version of history. It examines the case in Huntsville, Alabama, when historians at the University of Alabama Huntsville mounted a campaign to inform the community of World War II events in Europe that preceded the immigration and relocation of a team of German rocketeers to establish a missile development program at the US Army’s Redstone Arsenal facility in 1950. Cold War successes made Space Race heroes of the team and an international celebrity of the team leader, Dr. Wernher von Braun. Their successes also put Huntsville on the world map and transformed a cotton industry town into a “city of knowledge.”
The study reviews the public programming that the university historians presented between 1998 and 2010 and evaluates the success of that informal education program based on evidentiary changes in public commemoration activities and corresponding commentary in the press. The fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing in 2019 served as the study’s test commemorative event.
Placing recent activity regarding the Von Braun Team and especially the team’s leader, Dr. Wernher von Braun, in context with their legacy in Germany, the study concludes that the Huntsville community is resistant to conform with the negative image of von Braun and his team that has migrated from Germany to much of the United States via the scholarly research and writing of Dr. Michael J. Neufeld, the world’s current expert on von Braun. This resistance may be the result of multiple factors, as the study shows, but Huntsville’s immovable memory of von Braun as heroic “father” of the city’s spaceflight industry is subject to negative change as knowledge of his Nazi past spreads and becomes internalized among the city’s leadership or, conversely, to positive reinforcement as his visionary reputation increases with the second Space Age that currently fuels growth in “Rocket City,” as Huntsville has been aptly branded.
McClamroch, Susan Lloyd, "Memory of Wernher von Braun in Rocket City: The Historians’ Vergangenheitsbewältigung Challenge in Huntsville, Alabama, 1998-2010" (2021). University of New Orleans Theses and Dissertations. 2928.
Available for download on Tuesday, December 17, 2024