On the morning of September 11, 2001, an American Airlines Boeing 767 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. Worldwide, millions watched in shock as events were broadcast by live television coverage. Many remember the chilling footage of the second plane hitting the south tower and the later collapse of the twin towers.

At 9.45 am (Eastern Standard Time - EST), a third plane hit the Pentagon in Washington D.C. At 10.10 am (EST), a fourth hijacked plane crashed in a field in western Pennsylvania. United Flight 93 had been delayed leaving Newark Liberty International Airport, leaving time for some of its passengers to learn of the attacks in New York and Washington from cell phone calls. A group of brave passengers and flight crew fought the highjackers preventing the terrorists from weaponising the plane and taking out their fourth intended target, either the White House or the U.S. Capitol. The coordinated attacks were carried out by the Islamic extremist group al Qaeda.

Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives that day.

Twenty years on, historians at Bishop Grosseteste University share their memories of a day that changed the world.

Dr Claire Hubbard-Hall, Programme Leader for Military History.

I was weeks away from submitting my Master's' dissertation when 9/11 happened. The day the planes hit the World Trade Center, I had broken away from editing a dissertation chapter. I made a sandwich and then switched on the weighty analogue box television that occupied the living room corner. Images of destruction and devastation greeted me. News of the attacks in New York dominated both BBC and ITV channels (two of just five channels then). For the rest of the day, I sat transfixed, unable to make sense of the news that followed. In an era before social media, the live broadcast made it feel as if I were there. I watched in horror as the Twin Towers plummeted to the ground. At the time, I felt sick. Looking back, I still do.

During my doctorate, I spent some time in New York as a Fritz Halbers Fellow researching aspects of the Holocaust at the Leo Baeck Institute. In 2006, on a bitterly cold January morning, I visited the site of the 9/11 attack. Standing silently in Lower Manhattan, I felt overwhelmed with emotion, still unable to process the unthinkable.

As we mark the 20th anniversary of one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in history, I wonder how much 9/11 is shifting from lived experience to a historical event connected to the years of history before and after the 9/11 attacks.

Dr Hazel Kent, Lecturer in History.

I was rushing from my classroom to the staffroom to grab a much-needed cuppa after a busy lesson (some things don't change). A colleague stopped me in the corridor: "Have you heard what's happening in New York?" I hadn't. There wasn't easy internet access in a Lincolnshire comprehensive at that time, and certainly not in my History classroom. I went over to the Science block, to the technician's long, thin preparation room; this was the only place in the school with a live television signal. Surrounded by the chemical bottles and equipment, I remember watching the coverage in disbelief and trying to make sense of what was happening as more and more staff crowded into the tiny space to do the same.

I remember the confusion as TV reporters tried to explain, as the horrific trauma of a carefully coordinated terror attack began to unfold thousands of miles away. Watching the coverage of the event certainly had a profound effect on me. From a historian's point of view, it is interesting to reflect on the experience of watching such a significant event unfold in real-time before its narrative has been created.

Dr Alan Malpass, Lecturer in Military History.

I've lived my entire adult life in the post-9/11 world, but my memories of that day are hazy. I do remember, quite vividly, sitting on the sofa in my parents living room watching news reports of the attack.

I had just returned from school, so it must have been around 4 pm (BST). My dad was still at work, but my mum was watching the TV. I remember walking in and seeing her stood in the middle of the room. I immediately felt that something serious had happened, and I sat down. I don't remember us speaking a lot, but just sitting and trying to comprehend the news coverage. I didn't understand what had happened – I don't think anyone did at that point. I'd never heard of the 'Twin Towers' or thought much about terrorism, but the chaotic images made an instant impression. The sense that something tragically earth-shattering had happened was clear.

Twenty years later, I now find myself teaching the events of 9/11 and terrorism on some of the modules I deliver. They are requisite to understanding the world we live in today.

Further information about the 9/11 Memorials can be found at The 9/11 Memorial & Museum, Flight 93 National Memorial and The National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial.

10th September 2021

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