Some Thoughts about Public History, Monuments, and Teaching

Last summer I took part in an NEH summer workshop at the Georgia Historical Society called “Recognizing an Imperfect Past: History, Memory, and the General Public.” In addition to delivering a lecture on monuments and Civil War memory I sat down for a brief interview with the GHS staff. We covered a lot of ground related to the subject of my talk and other themes addressed during the workshop.

In addition to my own interview you can find interviews with the other participants as well, including David Blight, Anne S. Rubin, Karen Cox, Glenn T. Eskew, E.M. Beck, and Alexander X. Byrd.

Eventually, all of these interviews will be uploaded to the workshop’s website.

If you are a k-12 teacher and interested in teaching the history and memory of Civil War monuments I highly recommend downloading the k-12 guide that was created by the GHS. It is a phenomenal resource that offers suggestions on classroom activities and how to organize a class visit to a monument site.

3 thoughts on “Some Thoughts about Public History, Monuments, and Teaching

  1. Kent Lind

    Interesting. I was a public school teacher in a big diverse high school in Waco for a decade before moving back to the Pacific Northwest. I taught science so never came face to face with how to teach these topics. But they would come up in class anyway. Mostly confederate flags as opposed to monuments. After a decade of living in the south and observing first-hand I came to conclude that these issues and controversies all amount to essentially the same thing: An attempt by the dominant group to lay claim to the public space.

    There is really an identical phenomenon most prominent in the south with Evangelical Christianity in the public space. You see it in schools with public prayers after football games, cheerleaders performing overtly Christian displays and routines during games. You see it inside schools when the youth groups of the dominant Baptist megachurches all wear identical matching color-coded t-shirts on certain days. You see it when certain teachers stand up to lead “spontaneous” prayers during faculty meetings in public schools. And when government institutions like city councils choose to open their meetings with public prayers. It is an overt way of claiming ‘this is our space’ and if you don’t agree you don’t belong. I sat through public school principal search committees where the phrase “leadership qualities” was thrown around as code by those in the know to actually mean that the candidate was a member in good standing of the “correct” church.

    The monument building movement in public spaces throughout the south during the Jim Crow days was essentially the same thing: As is the display of confederate flags today. Although in Texas driving around in your pickup with giant Texas state flags and Gadsden Flags and the “Come and Take It” flag with the cannon on it seem to be the more modern “politically correct” version.

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    1. Matthew Tenney

      An attempt by the dominant group to lay claim to the public space sounds nefarious. But it seems to me that whenever someone moves into a close knit community that there is at least a subtle social pressure to conform whether it be church or tail gate parties or barbecues or pool parties or whatever. How could it be otherwise?

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