Confederate Monuments, Public Memory, and Public History

Dell Upton is the guest editor for the Bully Pulpit included in this issue, in which he has followed up on the theme of his current book “What Can and Can’t Be Said: Race, Uplift, and Monument Building in the Contemporary South” (Yale University Press) by asking a team of individuals critically engaged with public art, memory, and the nation about the recent debates around Confederate monuments and efforts to recognize histories of lynching. Contributors include Upton as well as Renée Ater, Sarah Beetham, and Kirsten Pai Buick.

Dell Upton, Distinguished Professor of Architectural History, University of California, Los Angeles

A monument leads an unhappy life. The best it can hope for is to molder quietly under a mantle of pigeon droppings, for when the people or events it celebrates attract a critical eye, its travails begin. Because a monument holds up its subject to memory, even adulation, it is likely to suffer for the failings of the animate.

Renée Ater, Associate Professor Emerita, American Art, PhD, The University of Maryland

In the context of the recent Confederate memorial debates, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, directly challenges the heroic narrative of the Confederacy as an honorable struggle and the idea that slavery was a benevolent institution.

Sarah Beetham, Assistant Professor of Art History, Department of Liberal Arts, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Confederate Monuments and the Inevitable Forces of Change

Contrary to popular perception, monuments are not immutable or unchanging edifices; instead, there can be adjustments and adaptations according to the circumstances of their environments.

Kirsten Pai Buick, Professor of Art History, University of New Mexico

At the heart of “American democracy” and “American freedom,” there is a shameful rot, which public monuments “labor” to paper over in order to present our struggles and conflicts as resolved and settled.