Purpose of memorials: During the last five years or so, and more intensely this year, Americans across the country have engaged in a serious conversation about the meaning of memorials and monuments.
Much of the focus originally was on statues of Confederate leaders (from the southern side of the Civil War), but this conversation has spread to other memorials as well, from honoring of individuals to commemoration of events. Most of this discussion has been measured, but monuments have also been toppled or vandalized.
This essay seeks to step back from the passions of this conversation and engage in a thoughtful evaluation of the purpose and meaning of memorials to the communities where they are placed.
We will explore the purpose of memorials/monuments (for example, to educate, to grieve, to honor), why some people or events at different times in our history are memorialized and why others are not. We will also examine how communities grapple with memorials that seem to be out-dated or offensive to a community, but represent a historical moment in that community’s past. Finally, you will have the opportunity to create a proposal for a memorial of your choice.
Assignments Included in the Essay
Your essay assignments include
1) a reflective essay and
2) your memorial/monument proposal.
This is your FIRST assignment, the reflective essay. Details on your proposal will be posted later.
Assignment 1 – Reflecting on Memorialization (worth 25 of 100 points)
This first assignment is an essay based on a series of readings. Read through the following instructions to write your essay.
Below is a selection of articles that provide you with information to help you think about the meaning and purpose of memorials. They are divided into a ‘required’ list and and a ‘supplemental’ list. I encourage you to read through all of the articles, then focus in on those that resonate with you when you write your paper. Note that most of the articles do not relate directly to the history we are learning in our class.
The purpose of these readings is to really immerse ourselves in this very important question of why societies, and more particularly why Americans memorialize, so I thought a range of topics in our collective history was useful.
These readings focus on the idea of memorialization using a variety of topics to do so. Use these as evidence to help you think about the question, What are the different reasons that we memorialize. Identify and explain three reasons that people engage in memorialization from the reading.
9/11: Memorialization and Cultural Memory by Erika Doss
This article discusses how we memorialize using two 9/11 memorials as examples. Pay close attention to the first and last section of the article. If you decide to use this for the second part of the essay, it does include some of the controversies surrounding the 9/11 memorials.
Top Ten Origins: Monument Take Downs by Eric Rhodes
This article offers some ideas about why and how we memorialize at the beginning, then offers us ten examples of ‘iconoclasm’ – breaking traditions – by taking down monuments. Look at each description of the memorial and consider what was being memorialized and why. Then why folks decided to take down the monument.
Whose Memory? Whose Monuments: History, Commemoration and the Struggle for an Ethical Past by James Grossman
This speech, given to the American Historical Association (one of the two major historians’ organizations) grapples with why we memorialize the past and offers a strong argument about the role of education in this process.
Choose at least two of the following articles that focus on specific events or issues. These articles offer us the opportunity to see how our ideas about memorializing have changed over time, and the controversies that arise from these changes. Some of these are about new monuments/memorials while other articles address changing or removing memorials.
The Horrific Sand Creek Massacre Will Be Forgotten No More
In this Smithsonian Magazine article, we learn about the Sand Creek Massacre of Native Americans in Colorado, efforts to memorialize this event and the controversies surrounding the creation of this national monument. Consider what is being memorialized and what the arguments were of people both in favor of, and opposed to, the creation of it.
Monticello is Done Avoiding Jefferson’s Relationship with Sally Hemings
(Links to an external site.)
This New York Times article discusses the Monticello Foundation’s decision to include the stories of the slaves who lived on Thomas Jefferson’s famous plantation. Think about the questions historians had to consider as they confronted the reality of Jefferson’s relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings, and their children, as well as why some reject this new interpretation.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s Speech
(Links to an external site.)
During the 2010s, New Orleans continued a long struggle over Confederate statues and monuments in its city. In this speech, Mayor Mitch Landrieu offered a perspective on why some of those monuments needed to be removed. Think about what his arguments are and whether they are convincing to you.
Re-examining Public Memorials
This is a more academic article that explores several memorials and asks the question about whether bad acts by individuals excludes them from any type of memorialization, even if other actions were beneficial. Focus on those examples that are from the United States when you read.
My Body is a Confederate Monument
(Links to an external site.)
This article is an opinion piece with a very compelling and challenging perspective. I hesitated about including it, but it’s such a powerful piece it seems a shame to leave it out.
In an essay that is no shorter than 800 words and no longer than approximately 1,000 words, answer the following prompt. Note the formatting and source requirements in the Format section below the prompt.
From your readings, what have you learned about why Americans memorialize events and people? Offer at least three reasons for memorializing, and use examples from the required readings to help you explain.
What are the controversies that surround the creation of, and altering of, memorials? Explain, using two of the supplementary readings, and if you’d like, any of the required readings. Consider the competing values that people bring to these conflicts, and how these conflicts were, or were not, resolved.
Where do you stand on the question of memorialization? Offer a one paragraph assessment of what arguments you’ve read that convinced you. This should be your conclusion.
Organization of Essay:
You are not required to use the exact organizational structure, but if you are struggling to put this together, here is an outline that will make sure all elements I asked for are included:
Introduction that includes the context for the paper (it’s about memorializing) and a thesis statement that previews the topics/arguments you will make in the essay (one paragraph)
Body of essay 1:
Identify three reasons for memorializing from the required reading, describe them and use the required reading as your evidence. Each reason should have a separate paragraph (total three paragraphs).
Body of essay 2:
Using two topics from the supplemental readings (and any required readings you’d like to include), explain the controversies. At least two paragraphs in length, one per topic. Three topics are allowed if you wish, but are not required (at least two paragraphs).
Finish up with a conclusion that reflects on what you learned – see the prompt above for its focus.
Format Of Paper:
Double spaced, normal font and font size for each section.
Include a References page on a separate page at the end of your essay listing all sources used, whether quoted or not.
Use Chicago Manual of Style Author-Date Reference method for all citations and references page. Use the MJC Library’s Citation Guide here: https://libguides.mjc.edu/chicago/authordate
(Links to an external site.)
Length is minimum 800 words, approximate maximum 1,100 words.
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