Update: Christopher Graham has also shared his thoughts on this subject, which I highly recommend.
I am sure there are other examples, but the Atlanta History Center is the first organization that I am aware of that is addressing the ongoing discussion about Confederate iconography. It is doing so by providing communities with the tools to better understand the history of their Civil War monuments.
The AHC is offering what it calls a “Confederate Monument Interpretation Template” that includes questions as well as text to understand the broad historical context in which many of these monuments were dedicated. It also includes a “Guide For Placing Monuments in Context” as well as a link to books, articles and a couple of blogs, including Civil War Memory for additional reading.
This is a step in the right direction, but let’s not confuse this for an argument against the removal of monuments. The AHC offered this press release:
The Atlanta History Center for several months has been developing a new approach that adds historic context, keeping the monuments in the places where they have become landmarks over many decades. Rather than remove statues, as is being proposed in a growing number of places across the South in addition to New Orleans, Atlanta History Center historians and staff are developing a customizable online marker template that local communities can follow and adapt to better interpret the statuary.
I am all for interpretation and context, but communities must be allowed to decide whether maintaining monuments at their current locations is first desirable. That is a separate discussion from the question of how they should be interpreted. We need to acknowledge that interpretation is not necessarily a solution to the concerns that many have expressed.
Perhaps public historians can also provide suggestions on how interpretation can be accomplished in the event that a decision is made to relocate.
For now, it is nice to see at least one major museum working to assist the general public in advancing these difficult discussions.