Statues, Historic Preservation, & Climate Change

Doss’ discussion of statue mania seems to be linked to the larger historic preservation of the early twentieth century. Both movements were spurred by ¬†middle and upper class anxieties about national unity because of “the rapid advance of modernism, immigration, and mass culture” (Doss 27). Historic preservation laws are aimed at saving (or recreating) certain places of American life, much as statues and memorials are meant to venerate certain people. Both create a landscape of memory for the public and each of us to interact with – or not.

Since “concepts of nationalism and national identity are cultural constructions,” and each generation has a new view on how the previous generation saved the cultural landscape, what do we do with statues, structures, and memorials that are mostly forgotten (Doss 53)? As cultural workers, do we have a responsibility to repurpose these places into the current mood of experience-based places of memory?

Alternatively, how do we save places of continued meaning from current preservation challenges? With this, I am thinking particularly of how climate change will impact historic structures, statues, and memorials. Without any action, many landscapes of memory will be lost, but saving everything would be costly and would alter the historic integrity of the structures. For my job focused on cultural heritage and climate change, my colleague and I investigated this topic here. From our research, we found that US preservation law has not quite caught up to

 

climate change impacts, but that states and communties are beginning to take action. This has the benefit of allowing more localized groups to make decisions on which places of memory are important to them, but also means that many communties have not formed a reaction.

Home in Galveston, TX being elevated after relocation due to rising sea levels.

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