In order to convey the insufficiently appreciated diversity of memorialization in post-genocide Rwanda, this project has brought to bear such diverse methodologies as ethnography—including visual ethnography—and Geographic Information Systems, or GIS, technology, which allows for the visualization and analysis of spatial data to reveal relationships, patterns, and trends. As a result of this methodological synthesis, the project has integrated three types of data, namely (1) photographic data, (2) ideographic data, and (3) geographic data.

All three types of data were—and continue to be—collected by Professor Jens Meierhenrich of Harvard University, who, with a small research team, has been surveying and studying Rwanda’s lieux de mémoire, laying bare their contentious politics and architecture. The available photographic data include original and archival photographs taken between 1994 and the present. Thus far the project has compiled a database of more than 7,000 original research photographs dating from 2002 and 2008. The notion of ideographic data refers to empirical information gleaned by way of in-depth, observational field research, including several hundred interviews. Out of respect for the privacy of respondents, pseudonyms have been used in the empirical vignettes.

Since its inception, the research team has analyzed over one hundred of Rwanda’s lieux de mémoire, with a particular emphasis on informal sites of memory. For Rwanda’s six national genocide memorials—Bisesero, Gisozi, Murambi, Ntarama, Nyamata, Nyarubuye—represent but a small fraction of the hundreds, perhaps thousands of spatial structures devoted to the commemoration of the genocidal dead. Preliminary research suggests that the informal structures—many of which have fallen into disrepair and are in dire need of preservation—may often be more meaningful to Tutsi survivors than the centralized, formal structures because they are more easily accessible to them. Geographic data, lastly, entails location-specific information for all the lieux de mémoire visited, harnessed with the help of satellite technology.


The data can be accessed and navigated in various ways. The website is interactive, and designed to be so, allowing for multiple levels of engagement. For those with a penchant for photographic data, the home page is a good starting point. From there, it is possible to browse the list of featured lieux de mémoire by scrolling over the grid of thumbnails. A mouseover reveals the name of the site depicted in the thumbnail. A click will transport users to the site page of the highlighted lieu de mémoire.

The site page is a good starting point for anyone searching for a particular lieu de mémoire. In order to find a specific site, users should begin their search on the home page. A mouseover will reveal the name of the site depicted in the thumbnail. A click will lead there. The sites are arranged alphabetically. Navigation buttons located on the top left and right hand corners of the grid are for turning the page. Upon arrival at the site page, users will find an identifying site photograph. A click on the image will access the entire set of site-specific photographs (between ten and eighty in number) that is available for perusal. Beneath the identifying image, where available, are located empirical vignettes—interpretive essays (between three hundred and three thousand words in length) slated to illuminate one aspect or more of the lieu de mémoire in view.

For those interested in geographically referenced information, the map page might be the best way to enter the website. There, two different maps—one affording two-dimensional, the other three-dimensional views—offer instruction, each highlighting the GPS locations of all of the lieux de mémoire currently featured on the website. Both are dynamic maps in that they possess continuous zooming and panning capabilities. The first map (located on top of the map page) affords four different vantage points—map, satellite, hybrid, and terrain. In addition to this functionality, each pin is linked to an identifying photograph of the site in question, which a mouseover will reveal. What is more, the map allows users to skip (using the navigation buttons on the top left and right hand corners of the grid) from one lieu de mémoire to the next, allowing for an appreciation of spatial dimensions and relations. The second map (located at the bottom of the map page) further enhances the spatial experience. In cooperation with Google Earth, this map superimposes visual information obtained from satellite imagery, aerial photography, and computer graphics. Located in-between the aforementioned maps is a Google Earth movie that offers a unique, bird's-eye perspective of several of Kigali's sites of memory. The map page as a whole bestows a heretofore unavailable, panoramic perspective on Rwanda’s lieux de mémoire, adding yet another layer of interpretation.

Copyright © 2010 Jens Meierhenrich. All rights reserved.