History Beyond the Academy: Monuments and Memorials

After posts on reenacting, collecting and restoration, and popular music, we’ll conclude our series of Senior Seminar reflections on how people make meaning of the past outside the boundaries of professional or academic history with monuments and memorials – courtesy of History/Psychology major Paul Hultgren (’13) and History/Social Studies Education Joe Held (’13).

Monuments are staples of our society. It’s hard to go through a day without seeing one. Prominent monuments, such as the Washington Monument or Lincoln Memorial, decorate our nation’s capital, while smaller monuments, like trophies or plaques are often present within homes or offices. Specifically, the Lincoln Memorial stands as a particularly strong example of what a monument should be, an item dedicated to a specific person, event, or idea. In the case of the Lincoln Memorial, it stands as a reminder of Lincoln’s legacy and the bloodshed of the Civil War. The ability of a monument to transcend what it was originally created to be is ultimately a sign that it is particularly meaningful. This is especially true of the Lincoln Memorial.

– Paul Hultgren

Aerial view of the Lincoln Memorial
Wikimedia

A good example of history beyond the Academy is the building of monuments. These constructions are our attempts to immortalize a particular trait or emotion of an event or person. These traits can be emphasized to elicit a particular response towards history. When we look at the Lincoln Memorial, we think of the confident, wise, and caring president and not the war-leading, obsessed president. These monuments help us remember history as we WANT to remember it. Even the Vietnam Memorial makes us quietly reflect on the dead soldiers as heroes and not as scared teenagers who were victims of a bloody conflict. I think that monuments are a good avenue through which the average citizen can engage with “historical thinking,” even if they usually represent the past in a manner that we want. But that is history.

– Joe Held

<<Read the previous post in this series

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