Digital Proposal: Alternative Monuments Tour

Washington, D.C. is a city steeped in history and blanketed in monuments, memorials, and public historical markers of all kinds. Thousands of locations across the District have been marked on HistoryPin, and dozens of tours have been created. It stands to reason that it has all pretty much been covered, right?

As it turns out, that’s not the case at all. While the Washington Monument has 16 pins, ranging from historical images to a 2005 family photo in front of the monument, lesser-known sites like the African American Civil War Memorial have no presence at all. My proposal is to remedy that situation by researching and creating a tour of historic D.C. monuments and memorials that are off the beaten path, providing some background about what they commemorate and the context in which they were created.

Since there are dozens if not hundreds of places in D.C. that fit this description, my tentative plan is to narrow the scope by limiting my tour to sites that are at or very close to metro stops. Tying the tour to the public transit system will give it some structure and also make it easier for users to navigate from site to site, or to just fund a single point of interest in an area where they will already be. So far, I have a handful of ideas for stops that would fit this concept, none of which currently appear on HistoryPin:

  • The African American Civil War Memorial (U Street station)
  • The GAR Monument and the Temperance Fountain (Archives station)
  • The Walt Whitman Civil War quote (Dupont Circle metro)

For each stop, I would give some background on what the monument or marker commemorates, when and why it was created, and ideally some historic photos to illustrate the point. Some would absolutely require deeper explanations than others because they have less contextual information on site. It’s pretty easy to tell what the African American Civil War Memorial is about just by reading the plaques and looking around, but that Whitman quote has no additional detail and I remember having to Google it when I first moved here to find out its fascinating backstory.

Ideally, this tour would reach an audience of tourists and locals alike. Because the focus is not on familiar tourist sites, it should have some crossover appeal between those two groups, or at least the subset of those two groups that is interested in history and knows about HistoryPin. There are already a number of D.C. tours on HistoryPin that have proven popular, ranging from a March on Washington collection with 19,000 views to a tour of the night Abraham Lincoln died with 600 views. The view count provides a convenient means to analyze the success of this project as well – it gives easy, tangible evidence of how many people are looking at this tour.

For outreach and publicity, social media will certainly play a key role. I’d like to make connections with local history groups to ask them to share the tour with their social media followings. There’s the Historical Society of Washington, of course, but also a number of smaller, neighborhood historical societies that might be easier to make initial connections with, especially if one of the stops on the tour is in their area.

Do you have a favorite monument that doesn’t get enough attention? Do you think I should scrap the metro stop idea and structure this another way? I would love to hear your thoughts!

4 Replies to “Digital Proposal: Alternative Monuments Tour”

  1. I don’t know if this is something that you would be interested in but the National World War I Memorial has officially started being built in Pershing Park. There is also an FDR Memorial by the National Archives because he apparently loved the archives.

    1. I didn’t know that about the FDR Memorial, thanks for the tip! And the WWI Memorial could be an interesting addition even though it’s not really built yet. Might be a good way to talk about memorials as a product of the time in which they’re constructed, the messy process of getting them approved and built, that sort of thing.

  2. This sounds like an awesome project! I would try and reach out with Tours for Humanity, they have a digital app with tours for people visiting Washington, D.C. and could help you find a way to actually implement an audio tour! It’s just a thought, but it wouldn’t hurt to reach out to them. The owner Bo is an alumni of the undergrad history program here. They may not be able to help distribute your tour but they could give you pointers on structuring an effective tour!

  3. Creating a digital history tour of under seen and visited historical spots in DC is a great idea. I would hazard to guess that between DCPL’s digitized content from the Washingtoniana collection and some of the digitized collections from the Library of Congress that you could get some great historical images that could be used for something like this.

    Building the tour out via places near metro station stops could be great in that folks won’t need to walk too far. With that noted, I think you are likely going to get something that would invite more interest and attention if you instead focused on monuments or memorials on a specific historical theme. That way, whatever topic you chose, would help to pin down what audience you are trying to reach and help inform a strategy for how to develop an interpretive frame. So that could be anything from “D.C. and the Civil War” to something like “African American Monuments in D.C.” There are lots of other ways you might topically orient a historical narrative through some set of monuments, but my sense is that picking some thematic thread is likely to get you ending up with something more engaging.

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