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?

Huzzah: Diction, Language, and Legacy in ‘”The Great”

In 2020, the streaming giant Hulu launched its own exclusive period piece called “The Great”. Starring Elle Fanning and Nicolas Hoult as Catherine II and Tsar Peter III, the show documents the rise of Catherine in court to ultimately becoming Tsarina, earning her title of Catherine the Great. Marketed as a comedy-drama, it has received numerous accolades from its first season. Rebecca Onion, writing for Slate, called the show “wrong on the facts but smart about history”, due to the often blazon disregard of historical fact (such as skipping over five Russian tsars in the lineage between Peter I and Peter III) coupled with its dedication to bringing modernist and feminist struggles to the forefront of entertainment.

Catherine plotting…

With an upcoming season already in production, the Great’s popularity will certainly continue to rise. Is this a good thing for the field of history? This is the main problem I hope to solve in this project. Similar to the Ben Schmidt piece we read for class, I am interested in analyzing the Great through its language choice in the dialogue. The questions that I aim to answer include: How does the script depict court life? What is lost with the dialogue’s particular structure? How does presenting a show in English regarding a non-English speaking court change the perception of the historical subjects? What does the language choice say about how “western” Russia is or is not portrayed to be?

Since I do not speak Russian, I think the first method of analysis would be Russian loanwords—words that originate initially in Russian or represent Russia that have become part of the English lexicon (most notably and prominently, vodka).

THE word

This method will highlight when key loanwords used in the show actually arrived in English and whether or not that is represented accurately in the Great. By using the Voyant tool I can identify key loanwords in the script before then using Google Ngrams to analyze usage over time. Though the show does not adhere to strict time periods, I will be analyzing diction from the 18th century in accordance with Catherine the Great’s rule. Interestingly, most often when written text is presented on the show it is in the Cyrillic alphabet. This gives me hope that words of Russian origin will be used correctly.

I hope to find that the show, even though it touts the fact that the writing is loosely based on its reference material, portrays Russia in way that is not detrimental in pop culture. Within the United States entertainment world, television exposure to Eastern European and Slavic countries is often an unequal one: using various stereotypes and tropes that juxtapose these cultures against other “western” ones. Peter the Great and later Catherine both pushed hard to westernize the state, but does this come through accurately in the Great?

one of the many attempts at an “experiment”

What do you guys think? If you have watched the show, how do you feel it uses language to create meaning for Russia and for Catherine? Happy to hear your thoughts!

defining digital history–evens

In this post I will use several readings to extract meaning for the burning question of this class–what IS digital history?

Daniel Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig in Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web create one of the first works devoted to answering this question. In the introduction, they detail the ways in which the internet can be helpful for conducting history including its accessibility, manipulability, flexibility, and interactivity while also warning that hazards can include quality, objectivity, and issues with readability, to name a few. Given that this book was written in the mid-2000s, how many of these benefits and hazards remain? Any new additions for digital historians in 2021?

The first chapter is devoted towards exploring the genres and history of the “History Web”.” History of the web found its beginnings in the early 1990s, then the NetScape era of the mid-1990s solidified the presence of history on the web with the American Historical Association and Library of Congress websites taking the lead. Cohen and Rosenzweig then defined five main genres that a historical presence takes on the web: archives, exhibits, teaching, discussion, and organizational before advising that potential digital historians should think carefully about which of these genres their web presence would fit best. This brings some questions for those of us looking to become digital historians. Is your goal to have a massive outreach? Create an accessible archive? Design an interactive exhibit?

Though both men are cited frequently for their contributions in the digital history landscape, historian Sharon Leon challenges their description of the beginnings of the field. In “Returning Women to the History of Digital History”, Leon restores the contributions of women to the history of digital history while also uncovering the “conditions that have contributed to their erasure.” Using analysis of funding by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Leon documents that women were leading and participating in projects since the inception of the “history web.”

Leon also demonstrates that publishing practices for scholarly and cultural institutions often ignores those “who have produced extreme significant digital history”, leaving them “nameless.” Leon finishes by arguing that returning women to the historical record is not enough; the academy and the historical record itself must change to be more inclusive. How does Leon’s article and experience challenge some of the benefits of the digital creation for the historical field? How can we work to revise these inequities?

The last of these readings discussed how best to challenge the lack of inclusion and citation of digital history methods in the broader field of history. In an interview about the digital aspect of the humanities, Sharon Leon states that digital and “public history doesn’t look like what a traditional historian would consider to be a scholarly argument; it is a little bit more subtle and much more dialogic”, which can explain why the field of history has taken a while to warm up to the concept.

Similarly, a white paper published by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media criticized the field of history for its silence on recognizing digital history, calling it a ” problematic practice in which historians regularly use digital versions of primary sources, but almost never cite those versions.” This paper provides several practical methods and suggestions for the field to recognize the role and importance of digital history to the academy.

In conclusion, digital history is many things and often defies categorization. It is the presence of the historical scholars and fans alike on the internet, the establishment of accessible archives and databases, and the continuation of inequities of the profession on a new platform. The power and potential of digital history is clear for all to see, though it comes with its own flaws and dangers. How best would you define digital history and argue its importance? Which components stand out the most to you?

Getting to know Josh Reynolds

Hi everyone, my name is Josh (not to be confused with this Josh Reynolds or this one) and I am a first year student in the Public History M.A. program at American University. I am a navy brat so I from all over but I have called Houston and Dallas, Texas home the longest. I am a graduate of the University of North Texas, where I studied history with a focus on on oral history, African American history, and U.S. military history. I wrote an undergraduate thesis that documented a WWII veteran’s experience during the war. I have worked in the Texas Legislature, for a criminal defense law firm, and for a property management company in a government relations role. Now, I want to switch over into the world of my true passion: history and museums. My current research interests revolve around African American history post-Reconstruction, U.S. political history, specifically the rise of populist and socialist movements, the history of gender, and the history of government interaction/participation in society.

Here is me!

My interest in public history–and now digital history–stems from my desire to bring history alive for people. I love the interactive and participatory facets that these two fields bring to the profession. My goal for my degree is to become a historian in an interpretive or educational role at a federal agency/museum before eventually getting into the teaching profession. In the meantime, in this class I hope to learn a) how to become more digitally literate, b) the ways that technology can enhance the production, preservation, and interpretation of history, and c) the innovative ways to make history more accessible to everyday people.

Please enjoy this picture of me and my dog, Siena. She will most likely make an appearance at some point in the semester.