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Fall 2024 Reading Group

Public Memory and Memorialization

Prerequisite: None

Exam Type: No Exam

How, if at all, should any given society engage in practices of commemorating the past that almost inevitably are designed as ways also of shaping the future, as by creating a certain sense of civic identity? In the United States, we have been addressing this now for at least a decade with regard to Confederate monuments and their displacement from the public square. But the examples go well beyond the United States and, therefore, the particular problems presented by the Confederacy and the so-called “Lost Cause” narrative embraced by defenders of the Southern secessionists. Thus, although we will certainly be looking at some of the debates surrounding Confederate statues and namings (as of buildings and army bases), we will look at other examples as well, both at home and abroad. Moreover, a new feature of this iteration of the reading course will be a look as well at international law. Consider, for example, that it is a war crime to attack central cultural monuments of countries with whom one is at war. But what if a particular polity decides on its own (whatever we think that might mean) to destroy sites that have, for example, been listed as World Heritage Sites, because they are thought to instantiate values that the regime believes are actually alien to the purposes of the polity as it now exists (or should exist in the future)? Perhaps this new regime consists of would-be “reformers” who have taken control and displaced an earlier regime that had attempted to inculcate the citizenry with its own view of a politically usable past (and desirable future).

Readings will include my own book Written in Stone: Public Monuments in Changing Society (2d ed. 2018) as well as a variety of other materials. Each student will be asked/required to write one response paper during the course of the semester, of about 600-750 words. Its purpose will be to set the agenda for our class discussion.

Note: This reading group will meet on the following dates: TBD.