CIVIC CONVERSATIONS: A Conversation about Monuments

Free and open to the public, this small-group discussion series encourages informed conversations around complex topics affecting Virginia. On the second Wednesday of each month, the Library will screen a segment from a documentary film, followed by a round-table conversation with input from a moderator and historical expert from the Library. Attendees are encouraged to share their perspectives with the group.

Addressing the Statue exhibit in Akeley Gallery AMNH

January 8, 2020’s event featured a short documentary from the American Museum of Natural History, The Meaning of a Monument, about the Theodore Roosevelt monument in New York City. Our conversation centered around historical and contemporary landmarks. The Library of Virginia’s director of Public Services and Outreach, Gregg Kimball, moderated the discussion and brought his historical experience and perspective to the table. For more information, contact Emma Ito at emma.ito@lva.virginia.gov or 804.692.3726.

As of June 21, 2020, this monument of Theodore Roosevelt in New York City is set to come down.


Potential Discussion Questions:

  • What does it mean to memorialize someone or honor a moment in time? Does it feel like a requirement for memorialization that the symbol be in a public space? Does it need to remain in the place we choose? Even many years into the future? Will later generations understand what they are seeing?
  • How do we curate and contextualize what we feel is important for later generations to know? Do we make it obvious that we are choosing which facts to portray? Should we share where to study any facts we choose to edit out? Will this symbol and story feel vital and relevant to future generations? For that matter, should it be expected to retain vitality or is this just for us? Will we leave future generations the option to determine their own relationships to and interpretations of this person or event?
  • Public spaces are in a constant state of flux given the needs and priorities of communities. How much history should remain in place and prominent in a public space to be considered respectful? Are museums a respectful domain for historical items for which we no longer have room in our public spaces?
  • Is there any relationship between how a community honors its history in “town squares” and how families honor their history in their communal living spaces? What happens there when we run out of room?
  • Are current generations facing a dilemma about the physical footprint of humanity? IF they feel there is now good reason to have less physical “stuff,” will they feel the same about physical memorials? Do they keep their own physical memorial objects? Do current generations have a different level of awareness on the personal nature of their connection to an object vs. what it may mean to a stranger, an outsider or someone from another time frame?
  • Are there ways to honor the artistic and creative integrity of a monument while no longer honoring the conscious or even unconscious intellectual concepts that were being embodied?
  • Does it take future generations or outsiders to recognize the unconscious biases that may be on display in a memorial? Should those biases be ignored? Do we cling to those biases in order to cling to a community? Should communities adapt and change to newer awareness? How do we know when a new awareness is intrinsically positive for society and that it may be time to “update” our communal spaces to reflect the new ideals we honor now?
  • How can we transition respectfully from old ideals to new ones? Change is hard for all of us. How can we open ourselves to change when it isn’t our own idea?

LIBRARY OF VIRGINIA RESOURCES
Books:

Archival Materials:

From the Library’s UncommonWealth Blog:


EXTERNAL RESOURCES

  • The website for the American Museum of Natural History exhibition Addressing the Statue can be found here. The Meaning of a Monument documentary that we discussed during our Conversation can be found here.
Rumors of War by Kehinde Wiley photographed by Travis Fullerton for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
  • See how historians are using the Clio app to offer interpretations of monuments and historic markers around the country, such as a walking tour of Richmond’s Monument Avenue. You can join in this crowd-sourced guide to history in your own backyard.

Documentaries and Video:

Updates to the Removal of the Theodore Roosevelt monument in New York City: