History-focused Memorials/Monuments and History Months

Posted on April 22, 2010 by

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I enjoy the occasional visit to “Walking in the Berkshires” and, while I haven’t visited the blog much recently, I spent a little while the other day catching-up on a few posts made over the past few months. I found the post focused on the controversy surrounding South Carolina’s Secession Ordinance Monument quite enlightening. When reading the following, however, I was wondering if what Tim says might also apply to the way we create monuments of months (and, for that matter, days).

Memorials are for the benefit of the living.  The problem with the words we etch in stone, as with all symbols, signs and signifiers, is that they really are artifacts of the present.  They say more about what some of us want remembered than the people and events themselves.  When these involve monuments intended for public viewing, they are by their very nature meant to inform public understanding and shape collective memory.  They help some of us bond with each other and identify with the past, and may alienate others (whether by intention or inadvertently).

He writes more, which I find equally as true in regard to monuments, but the paragraph above just really struck me for reasons obviously related to the month we are now experiencing in Virginia.

Now, I know that, unlike stone monuments, “history months” are not permanent. They are… or can be… much more easily dismantled over generations. Whether or not these months or days are “dismantled” depends on the succeeding generation and if they find something more important to honor within a month… or even a day… that trumps that held as important in a previous generation.

Yet, just as in the case of monuments, are these days and months any different in that they are for the benefit of the living? Just as the words etched in stone, the words that are carved-out of a small amount of time are also artifacts of the present. Just as with monuments, words presented within a particular month are “meant to inform public understanding and shape collective memory” [my emphasis]. Just as in the case with monuments, a designated month or say is to “help some of us bond with each other and identify with the past, and may alienate others (whether by intention or inadvertently).” And, again… “They say more about what some of us want remembered than the people and events themselves.”

Just some passing thoughts.

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