Monuments or Memorials? “The Meaning of Our Confederate ‘Monuments’”

Interesting discussion on the difference between “monuments” and “memorials” and how that distinction plays out with the contemporary controversy around the removal of Confederate Civil War statues.

“The debate around these monuments — Should they be destroyed, maintained or removed elsewhere? — has been heated and, I believe, misguided. We should be asking other questions instead: Are these statues really “monuments” by our present standards? Or are they rather “memorials”? Are we misled by the avenue’s name? Do we need to rename the avenue itself as we attempt to remedy our deferred maintenance of history?”

Planet Money Podcast: What does Georgetown owe the descendants of the 272 slaves it sold in 1838?

“In 1838, Jesuit priests sold a group of 272 men, women, and children – slaves – to pay off Georgetown University’s debts. The slaves were sent from Maryland to Louisiana. In part one of this two part episode, we told the story of how the residents of a small town discovered where they’d come from. Now in part two, we ask what, if anything, Georgetown owes the descendants of those slaves.”

Parts One and Two linked below

In divided America, history is weaponized to praise or condemn Trump

“On social networks and talk radio, in classrooms and at kitchen tables, the country’s past is suddenly inescapable. Many, many people — as President Trump would put it — are sharing stories about key moments and figures in American history to support or oppose one controversial White House executive order after another.”

Britain’s view of its history ‘dangerous’, says former museum director

What is the purpose of learning history? How can different nations use their history to accomplish different goals? What are the consequences of telling history in a one sided way, self promoting way?

This article helps us contrast the distinct views Great Britain and Germany have taken toward viewing their own histories. Is one superior to the other? How would we measure success in this regard? Should countries use history to promote patriotism?

“Neil MacGregor, the former director of the British Museum, has bemoaned Britain’s narrow view of its own history, calling it “dangerous and regrettable” for focusing almost exclusively on the “sunny side”.”

“Speaking before the Berlin opening of his highly popular exhibition Germany – Memories of a Nation, MacGregor expressed his admiration for Germany’s rigorous appraisal of its history which he said could not be more different to that of Britain.

“In Britain we use our history in order to comfort us to make us feel stronger, to remind ourselves that we were always, always deep down, good people,” he said. “Maybe we mention a little bit of slave trade here and there, a few wars here and there, but the chapters we insist on are the sunny ones,” he said.”

“He said Germans had given expression to their the worst chapter of their history in extensive memorials and Mahnmale (‘monuments to national shame’). “It’s telling that in English we don’t even have a word like ‘Mahnmal’,” he said. “The term is just too alien to us.””

What to do with Woodrow Wilson’s name and legacy at Princeton University

In addition to recent debates around the Confederate flag and statues and memorials to confederate war heroes have been arguments around the names of buildings on college campuses and the ways in which we should remember past historical figures who have recently become unpopular. How should we view or judge historical figures? With the standards of today? Or of their time? Important figures often leave complicated legacies that make it difficult to characterize them simply.

The case of Woodrow Wilson is an interesting one. He helped built Princeton University into much of what it is today in addition to having been a US President. At the same time he held deeply racist views and acted on those views and helped resegregate the federal workforce. How do we reconcile our views on such a person?

Below are some interesting articles on the topic.

The first one briefly summarizes the issue. The following ones are opinion pieces.

Princeton will keep Woodrow Wilson’s name on buildings, but also expand diversity efforts

Here are four opinion pieces on the question

Erasing Woodrow Wilson’s name is not that easy

Woodrow Wilson’s racism isn’t the only reason for Princeton to shun his name

The Case Against Woodrow Wilson at Princeton

What Woodrow Wilson Cost My Grandfather

Yale Removes Calhoun Name: We Can’t Erase History or Erase It

“One of the goals of chopping away at history is to simplify it into a simple battle between the good, who remain, and the evil, who are wiped away. But that’s not the way history works, nor is it the way politics works.”

Why the U.S. President Needs a Council of Historians

Interesting article that addresses the issue of the practical value of learning history.

“It isn’t enough for a commander in chief to invite friendly academics to dinner. The U.S. could avoid future disaster if policy makers started looking more to the past.”

“For too long, history has been disparaged as a “soft” subject by social scientists offering spurious certainty. We believe it is time for a new and rigorous “applied history”—an attempt to illuminate current challenges and choices by analyzing precedents and historical analogues.”