Professor David Ehrenpreis
Why do more than five million visitors and countless school groups seek out the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC each year? Why did Martin Luther King give his “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial? And why did the threat of removing a confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, provoke wide-ranging violence and actually lead to murder? We build monuments and care so deeply about them because they are the most visible and legible statements of our values as a nation or a community. These places show what we decide to remember but also what we would like to forget. In this course, we will examine the shifting role of monuments in society, whether they function as a site for pilgrimage or for violent confrontation. Intense debates about national monuments provide key insights into our national identity, but they also offer crucial opportunities for civic engagement.
Because monuments can only be understood after developing a thorough knowledge of key concepts such as cultural memory and nationalism, the two class units will be devoted to thoughtful readings of theoretical texts that explore these topics. In the third unit, students will turn to monuments themselves learning about different designs, contexts etc. The final unit will be the culmination of the comprehensive research project, “My Monument,” for which they will have been completing components throughout the semester.