Historical Crossroads: Heritage, Memory, and Legacy through Mapping 21st Century Confederate Monuments

In the past few decades, national debate surrounding monuments and memorials of the Confederacy have reached new heights as activists push for their removal. The monument debate swirls with arguments from the monuments being a testament to blatant racism and injustice in American society and misrepresenting (or altering) history to those of southern and family heritage and legacy. These disagreements have led to protests and counter protests, most notably the tragic 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that resulted in multiple deaths and injuries. Clearly, this topic is volatile and present in the minds of Americans. However, what is not clear is how current some monuments actually are.

Much has been written about the confederate monument craze of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and of key organizers of their construction like the United Daughters of the Confederacy and Sons of Confederate Veterans. Often, when media sources write about monuments and protests, they mention these historical foundations. However, very little writing exists for the monuments created, erected, and dedicated in the digital age. My project seeks to change that.

An example of coverage in favor of a 21st century monument.

In this project, I will map the (at least) 35 Confederate monuments dedicated in the 21st century. My analysis will include their transcriptions, newspaper articles, and secondary source material to place these monuments within the larger conversation regarding historical memory, legacy, and memorial in America. I want to answer: what are the motives for these new monuments? What are they memorializing? Where is slavery in these monuments? Where is the acknowledgement and accountability of the failure of the confederate state ? How do these fit (or not) within “Lost Cause” narratives? And most importantly, should they be removed?

I propose to use ArcGIS Story Maps for my project because it allows for a blog-like flow of both narrative and mapping service. It will include images, narrative writing, links to further resources, and potentially audio from interviews conducted with those are the forefront of this conflict. It will be interactive and guide the reader through contextual exhibits (liked elaborating on the UDC and its role in memorialization) through the Story Maps slideshow feature. I also would like to incorporate some method of a comment/communication system in the project, perhaps through an embedded link. This project is unique because other Confederate monuments and memorial maps are encyclopedic rather than analytic.

My very bare homepage

The audience I hope will benefit from this project are academics in the field, activists, journalists, and history hobbyists. This tool will allow for more focused discussions of monuments while also challenging the readers to understand the relevancy of these monuments; if they were human, few could drink, a little more could vote, and many wouldn’t be able to legally drive. This suggests that the battle to preserve historical memory is far from over and has a lot of potential for outreach and publicity. In the end, this project will be evaluated on its flexibility; I hope that this is a resource that can grow and be updated to further contextualize commemoration in the United States. This means that map functionality and sustainability coupled with reader feedback will be the focus of my evaluation efforts.

A way I am thinking about categorizing the entries.

What are your thoughts on this? Anything else I should consider or include?

6 Replies to “Historical Crossroads: Heritage, Memory, and Legacy through Mapping 21st Century Confederate Monuments”

  1. Josh, this is a very relevant and important topic to study. Will you be including only the monuments built after 2000? Also, how are you defining monuments, is it exclusive to statues of people?

    1. Thanks for your comment, Amanda! Yes, I plan to only include monuments and memorials dedicated during or after 2000 because of the relatively little scholarship and news written about them. As for terms, I am using monuments and memorials meaning any sort of commemorative vessel, whether it be a placard, statue, or other monument. I am excluding place names, roads, schools etc. because I think that would broaden my scope too far for a semester project.

  2. Hi Josh, I think this is a really interesting and relevant topic. I do not think this will fit into your final project, but I wanted to send it along anyway. Indiana, my home state, has quite an odd relationship with Confederate history, considering we were a Union state. Other than the Confederate flags seen in most rural Indiana towns, I looked up if there were any Confederate monuments and I found the Crown Hill Confederate Plot, which is in a large and well-known cemetery in the city, right near my undergrad university. A few… interesting things I read about it: “In 1993, a local effort led to the rededication of the site, which included a modification of the original monument. Today, a bronze tablet on its base reads: ‘Confederate Mound: These Confederate soldiers and sailors died at Indianapolis while prisoners of war. They were transferred here from Greenlawn Cemetery in 1933 to rest eternal. A large monument to these dead now stands in Garfield Park, Indianapolis, Indiana.'” Apparently, from another source: “Sixty years later, an effort led by two Indianapolis police officers to identify the remains buried in the mass grave culminated in the dedication of ten markers that list the names of Confederates who died at Camp Morton and are believed to be buried in the Confederate plot. ” Here are the websites in case anyone is interested: https://www.cem.va.gov/cems/lots/crownhill.asp https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/national_cemeteries/indiana/crown_hill_confederate_plot.html

    1. Thanks for this Claudia! Every story regarding monuments is almost worth its weight in gold… very perplexing and rich with content, to say the least. I think that Indiana may be a good place to begin looking for motivations and reasoning for the rise of Confederate memorialization in non-Confederate states.

  3. I think this is a really thoughtful and timely project. I also think that building this out as a storymap is a great idea. I also very much appreciate that you’re thinking about and identifying your intended audience.

    One of the challenges I see in this project will be to work through issues of positionally and perspective. That is, it’s important to provide information on why these monuments are continuing to be constructed. However, it’s also important to think through how to illustrate the real harm that is tied up in the underlying white supremacy that is at play in these myth making efforts. So I think it will be important to work out how to frame all of this to make sure that it doesn’t fall into something that can be read as a “here are both sides” kind of thing.

    Given the significance of this issue and it’s centrality in public discourse, I think that this could potentially reach a broader audience too. In that vein, I think it might be good to think about things like style and narrative conventions that would come from long form journalism work, like things that the Atlantic would publish.

    Along with that, it’s worth thinking about a potential communications plan to support this. If it comes together and you’re happy with the result, I think you could reach out to some journalists covering this topic and they might help spread the word about it.

    1. Hi Trevor,

      Thank you for the advice! I think the position and voice question will remain central to my project. I want this to be useful as a database, but also as tool of learning that documents the continued struggle for memory and the harm that it can have on individuals and communities. I like your suggestion of long-form journalism as well. I think that will be helpful for the reader to stay engaged with the reading as well as the digital aspects of the map.

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