Memorial Mania on College Campuses?

I’m fascinated this week by the combination between commemoration as a physical presence (in the construction of memorials, as Doss discusses) and an experiential one (in Sandage’s article on protests during the Civil Rights Movement.) It’s one thing to focus on the ways in the constructed presence or its intended narrative, as Gopnik does in his criticisms of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. However,  it’s quite another issue to think of the constructed presence as something on which we present our feelings, interpretations, and constructed legacies. While the readings this week have focused primarily on the physical constructions of representations of the past (aside from Sandage), I’m curious more directly how politics of memory influence the celebrations/protests/events that occur around the physical memorials.

There are a lot of different ways to go about this – I’ll stick with protests. Politicization of statues, buildings, and monuments has been an increasingly prevalent theme in recent years. I’m reminded of #RhodesMustFall at University of Cape Town, where students used a protest for removal of a statue to push for wider decolonization of the university. I’m thinking of the recent change of Calhoun College at Yale to Grace Murray Hopper College being part of a larger conversation around the history of slavery and reparations in prominent universities. Amherst College recently took efforts to change their (unofficial) mascot from the Jeffs, a reference to Lord Jeffrey Amherst.  Sandage’s argument places  Lincoln (and the Lincoln Memorial) as a positive piece of symbolism on which black activists projected the growing Civil Rights movement. Now, though, we see a shift to view these figures negatively, and are perhaps more transparent/explicit  in the use of these political symbols of (white) men to make connections to decolonization and racial justice.

I’m also noticing as I write this that the examples I first reach for around memory and memorialization are university-related. I’m sure that’s partially due to my own news-related biases, getting most of my information from professors and academic-minded sources. But I also wonder if that points to the ways in which universities – public and private – use monuments or memorials to establish a legacy parallel to that of a larger, national one. What’s the role of memorial mania on this campus? On any campus? And what’s the role of students, faculty, and staff to acknowledge/challenge these politics around physical constructs?

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