Monuments: Power, Protest, and Memory
Think of the bronze equestrian statues of emperors, generals, and political leaders striding through our public spaces. These works were created to cement a particular mix of power, militarism, and self-importance into the consciousness of generations to come. Yet in recent years, we have seen many of these statues disgraced and destroyed alongside the ideals they represent. In 2020, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, demonstrators across the globe toppled or defaced dozens of monuments to historical oppression and white supremacy. Met with outrage on the right, and in some cases skepticism by professional historians and preservationists, the attack on monuments nevertheless raised urgent and inescapable questions surrounding issues of memorialization: Who is represented in and by monumental space? Who guides the process of remembering and to what end? Why do specific commemorative practices take certain forms? How do monuments actively shape social relations and cultural beliefs? And what would a more participatory and democratic form of historical commemoration look like?
In this class, we will explore the contested and ever-shifting intersections between memory, history, and monuments. Along the way, we will consider participatory memorials, represented by so-called “counter-monuments” in contemporary art. We will begin our survey by situating our understanding of modern monuments in a broader history of commemoration that untangles the differences between memorials, icons, and monuments. Then, we will draw upon a number of case studies to examine four themes that bring together monuments and historical memory: trauma, nationalism, transformation, and destruction. We will ask: How have artists grappled with memorializing the Holocaust without aestheticizing it or relaying a false sense of historical closure? What role have war monuments—from Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial to Ground Zero—played in symbolizing and justifying the political history of a nation? How have Russian political elites co-opted, contested, ignored, or removed Soviet-era monuments in an attempt to transform national identity? Finally, what is at stake when citizens call for the removal or destruction of Confederate monuments in the U.S.? Readings will be drawn from works by Pierre Nora, Françoise Choay, Kirk Savage, Caroline Randall Williams, Erika Doss, Michael Taussig, James E. Young, Linda Kinstler, Serguisz Michalski, Marita Sturken, and Monument Lab, among others.
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
July 26 — August 16, 2022