Fascinating article that delves into the role of language and its effect on our understanding of history as well as the present. How is our collective memory shaped by the words we use to describe the past?
“Landis goes on to suggest that we call plantations what they really were—slave labor camps; and drop the use of the term, “the Union.” A common usage in the 19th century to be sure, but now one we only use “the Union” in reference to the Civil War and on the day of the State of the Union address. A better way to speak of the nation during the war, he argues, is to use its name, the United States.”
“As Douglass was already concerned that the victors were losing the war of historical memory to the supposedly vanquished, I am not sure that he would have been surprised that not far from where he stood at the national cemetery—often considered the nation’s most hallowed ground—a Confederate memorial would be built in the early 20th century to the insurgents he felt “struck at the nation’s life.”
“Douglass knew, day-by-day, after the shooting stopped, a history war was playing out. It is clearly not over yet. Words, though they do not stand as marble and bronze memorials in parks and in front of buildings or fly on flagpoles, are perhaps even more powerful and pernicious. The monuments we’ve built with language may, in fact, be even more difficult to tear down.”