SESSION TITLE: Monument and Memory
In an era when cultural diversity is rewriting the national narrative of the American past, that revisionism is altering the public landscape of monuments and memorials. Meanwhile the trend to ask that tragic memory or difficult history be addressed -- encompassing such topics as slavery, the holocaust, labor massacres and other events formerly rarely acknowledged on statues or bronze plaques -- has complicated the process of inserting monuments and memorial landscapes in public spaces. Today’s thirst for multiple points of view and flexibility in incorporating wider communities of interest has sparked debates over choices about spaces, marking and approaches. Since the monument mania of the post-Civil War period, patriotic lobbies and nostalgic constituencies have been essential to the erection of public markers of memory. As the bronze age gave way to the living memorial, the nation’s stock of public memorial sites has relentlessly expanded, notes art historian Kirk Savage. Yet in our time the politics of the affected communities and the definition and demarcation of the public and private spaces that may be deemed suitable for marking major collective memories have made memorial commissions the target of political and aesthetic rage, even as older monuments often suffer neglect and indifference.
The four panelists hailing from diverse disciplines consider a range of issues raised by communities engaged in memory in public space, noting innovations in materials, fierce differences over the characterization and redefinition of heroes and heroism, and the high stakes over the public image of those to be commemorated, or those who may still be shunted aside. As virtual electronic spaces become ever more integral to public lives, monument and memory begin to stake claims in places beyond the reach of memorial commissions, yet centrally located in the new public sphere.