Why Are We Forgetting To Order the Pedestals?

LincolnClassPerhaps I’ve spent too much time studying how Americans have used public spaces to commemorate and remember their past, but I don’t get overly emotional around statues and other such sites.  My first thought is almost always about the people – including the profile of the individual/group – who chose to shape a particular landscape with some kind of commemorative marker and the values that they hoped to impart to the public.  In addition to the intentions of those who established the site there is the history of how the space is interpreted and consumed by subsequent generations.  In all honesty, I rarely think about the object being commemorated.  In short, for me public spaces of historic remembrance are almost always about the living.  In most cases the objects themselves have little to do with shaping public behavior, especially if they sit atop pedestals.  You can have a barbecue, play chess, or engage in polite conversation without ever considering the namesake of the location.  Continue reading

Acquisitions 11/23/09

Abigail Adams CoverI try to keep this running list of new titles confined to this blog’s subject matter.  Professor Holton was one of my professors while in graduate school at the University of Richmond.  I worked with him on an independent study and got a chance to read a section of his Adams biography in manuscript form.  Since then I’ve eagerly awaited its final publication. My relationship with Abigail Adams is very complex.  I’ve always found her history to be intriguing; however, since the HBO series I’ve had a major crush on Laura Linney, though I can’t tell how much of it is directed at Linney as opposed to Adams.  Luckily, I have a very understanding wife who is helping me to work through all of this.  If you thought you knew everything there is to know about Abigail Adams you will want to read this book.

Woody Holton, Abigail Adams (Free Press, 2009).

Michael Perman, Pursuit of Unity: A Political History of the American South (University of North Carolina Press, 2009).

Kirk Savage, Monument Wars: Washington, D.C., The National Mall, and the Transformation of the Memorial Landscape (University of California Press, 2009).

William L. Shea, Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign (University of North Carolina Press, 2009).

Hey! Richard Dreyfuss! Leave Them Kids Alone!

doc4b0537e4016b2999985969I know, I know, I know…you don’t want to hear any more about Richard Dreyfuss.  [see here and here]  Well, this will probably be it.

There seems to be a generational divide regarding Dreyfuss’s speeches.  While Dreyfuss himself has admitted that he has had difficulty reaching out to high school kids an older generation seems to be lapping up his doomsday scenarios about the future of this nation and the supposed incompetence of our youth.  But isn’t that the way it always is?: “Every generation thinks it;s the end of the world.” [Wilco]  Dreyfuss received a standing ovation earlier this week in Gettysburg after speaking at the annual commemoration of Lincoln’s address.  Geez, what a surprise given the profile of his audience.  I would love to know how many in the audience attended these same exercises when they were in high school?  More to the point, Dreyfuss’s perception of our youth clearly reflects no interaction with the very people that he claims to be so concerned about:

Tell Steve Jobs and Bill Gates to help us create games that make us more thoughtful and able to think things through instead of wasting the computer power that sent us to the moon and back on the blood-splatter of gangster video games.

And there you have it.  Continue reading

Education Rather Than Removal

I‘ve never been a fan of tearing down our Civil War monuments because I tend to think that such a move only works to make us feel better.  Although the removal of monuments reflects the very same political, economic, and social conditions that led to their being initially placed in prominent spots it almost always fails to address a controversial past that has helped to divide a community.  One alternative is to add some kind of marker to the historic site that educates the visitor as to why a statue was placed in a particular spot and that offers a more complete interpretation of the event/individual being commemorated.  This is what the citizens of Frederick, Maryland have done with a prominent statue of Chief Justice Roger Taney that was dedicated in 1931.  Now visitors can read a small plaque that outlines the infamous ruling in the Dred Scott v. Sanford as well as its long-term consequences.  Not only does it educate, but it gives voice to both Dred and Harriet Scott as well as a community whose past has all too often been ignored.

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