Roosevelt Statue to Be Removed From Museum of Natural History (and other related links)

Below are a few resources surrounding the recent removal/destruction of statues.

“The world does not need statues, relics of another age, that reflect neither the values of the person they intend to honor nor the values of equality and justice,” said Theodore Roosevelt IV, age 77, a great-grandson of the 26th president and a museum trustee.

From the artist, John Russell Pope, in 1928:

“In the center of the terrace…will arise a polished granite pedestal bearing an equestrian statue of Roosevelt with two accompanying figures on foot, one representing the American Indian and the other the primitive African. This heroic group…will symbolize the fearless leadership, the explorer, benefactor and educator….”—From a description of the architect’s design approved by the Memorial Commission, 1928

Commenting on the recent controversy: “Pope refers to the figures as a ‘heroic group.’ That’s important. In some criticisms, the standing figures were taken to be lesser than Roosevelt. That was never the intention. They are allegorical figures representing Africa and America, emphasized by the animals on the parapet reliefs.”—Harriet F. Senie, Director, M.A. Art History, Art Museum Studies, The City College of New York

What’s the point of statues?

To the minds of people in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, public art had a very clear purpose, which seems to have been forgotten in the minds of many people today. Rather than teaching history, or even celebrating the memory of a particular person, so much of the art that still dots our public places was explicitly about inculcating virtue – good morals, and good habits.

It’s a notion that sits uneasily with us now. It’s hard to think of any artist today who would be so bold as to tell us all how we should think and act.

https://fl.ink/explore/whats-the-point-of-statues

Some Statues Are Like Barbed Wire

Activists fighting to remove statues of slavers and colonizers understand better than most how public memorials can be a form of violence.

Thinking about how and why statues go up might help us to think about if they should come down. Once a statue is in place, it is easy to think of it as an eternal and inevitable presence—a view that informs the notion that removing statues is tantamount to “erasing history.” However, statues don’t happen by accident; it takes the concerted will and money of an individual or group to have a monument take form in stone or metal in a public place. Thinking through the intentions of how, where, and when a given statue came to exist in a given space at a given time offers a way past scaremongering about slippery slopes and the erasing of history to consider the story a statue tells, and if that is a story that belongs in a public place in 2020.

https://bostonreview.net/race/jonathan-beecher-field-some-statues-are-barbed-wire?utm

Foreign Affairs Magazine January/February 2018 The Undead Past

An excellent collection of articles discussing the role of history and memory and how different nations including the U.S., Russia, China, Germany, Rwanda, and South Africa have dealt with their pasts.

From the introduction to the issue:

How do nations handle the sins of the fathers and mothers? Take genocide, or slavery, or political mass murder. After such knowledge, what forgiveness—and what way forward? The Germans have a word for it, of course: Vergangenheitsbewältigung, or “coming to terms with the past.” But the concept is applicable far beyond the Nazis

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/issues/2018/97/1(may be behind a paywall)

Here are a bunch more posts about historical monuments and history.

https://toktopics.com/tag/monuments/

 

 

Podcast: What Our Monuments (Don’t) Teach Us About Remembering The Past

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Monuments don’t mean things on their own. They mean things because we make them mean things. So this Robert E. Lee statue, which I suspect most Charlottesvillians would have walked past and ignored as well, has taken on a new valence. And I think that’s an important reminder. Monuments are not static things that have a single narrative behind them. Monuments are things that we create. Monuments are objects whose meaning and significance we create daily.

 

Should We Remove Monuments of Unpopular Historical Figures?

There has been a lot of debate recently around the presence of the confederate flag at various government buildings along with war memorials to Confederate figures. Below are a couple of recent articles on the topic. These raise issues about how we should treat the past through these memorials and whether we should remove or edit them once the figures, or the ideas they represent, become unpopular.

Confederacy: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

“Confederate symbols are still celebrated despite the ugly history they symbolize. John Oliver suggests some representations of southern pride that involve less racism and more Stephen Colbert.”

Baltimore City commission recommends removal of two Confederate monuments

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-md-ci-confederate-monuments-20160114-story.html

New Orleans votes to remove Confederate, Civil War monuments

http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/17/us/new-orleans-confederate-monuments-vote/

Richmond mayor vows to confront tributes to Southern Civil War figures

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/in-the-former-capital-of-the-confederacy-a-new-path-forward-on-monuments/2017/06/22/3133e044-56c3-11e7-a204-ad706461fa4f_story.html?utm_term=.2a1d409eff8b&wpisrc=nl_draw2&wpmm=1

In England, a similar debate is happening over a statue of Cecil Rhodes.

  1. ‘Black lives are cheap at Oxford’: Furor follows decision to keep Cecil Rhodes statue

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2016/01/29/black-lives-are-cheap-at-oxford-furor-follows-decision-to-keep-cecil-rhodes-statue/?mc_cid=84d899c964&mc_eid=34e2887073
  2. Over one third of Oxford students want Cecil Rhodes statue removedhttp://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/jan/15/oxford-students-cecil-rhodes-statue-removed?mc_cid=84d899c964&mc_eid=34e2887073
  3. Removing visual reminders of unsavoury history is not the best way to confront the past.http://www.historytoday.com/rupert-fitzsimmons/rhodes-must-not-fall?mc_cid=84d899c964&mc_eid=34e2887073

New York City Just Removed a Statue of Surgeon J. Marion Sims From Central Park. Here’s Why

“With Sims, the controversy is not about the merits of his medical achievements, but how he accomplished them. Though Sims founded New York’s first women’s hospital and innovated new surgical techniques, his success came at the cost of unethical medical treatment of enslaved women in the antebellum era.”

http://time.com/5243443/nyc-statue-marion-sims/

Podcast: The Falling of the Lenins

“The same protests that brought down that Lenin statue eventually brought about a new government in Ukraine, which sought to eliminate all physical reminders of communism and Russia.  But it hasn’t been easy, logistically or politically, because removing these things erases history that is still important to some Ukrainians. Furthermore, communist symbols are very pervasive in the built environment — they can be found on buildings, bridges and other infrastructure.”

http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/the-falling-of-the-lenins/

Other Posts on this topic

https://toktopics.com/tag/monuments/

 

Good riddance: Americans need to set aside icons like Robert E. Lee to live up to our potential.

Knowledge Questions: What is the role of historical monuments in learning history?  What is the role of history in society? How does history change over time?

screen shot 2019-01-06 at 5.33.17 pmWhen we choose how we view history, we risk mythologizing events and people, reducing them to two-dimensional stories. It takes nothing away from Abraham Lincoln’s heroic stewardship of our nation through the Civil War, for instance, to admit that he was still a creature of his era. For most of his career, he saw slaves as rival laborers for white wage-workers and thought they should go back to Africa. Frustratingly, our instinct to sanitize history ensures that we are always looking backward for our better angels, struggling to meet a standard that remains forever out of reach.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2018/11/21/feature/good-riddance-americans-need-to-aside-icons-like-robert-e-lee-to-live-up-to-our-potential/?utm_term=.2d7c7ab31918

See other posts related to this one about historical monuments

A 124-year-old statue reviled by Native Americans – and how it came down

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Art is in the eye of the community
So if the statue doesn’t provide an accurate idea of history, is it valid as a piece of public art? Jeff Hou, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Washington, says no. He says the public realm is accountable to one audience – the public.

“In the public realm, works of arts and design are subject to the public process. In other words, the public can have a say in what’s appropriate in a public space in a democracy,” he told me.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/sep/24/early-days-statue-removed-san-francisco-native-americans

Americans need to know all our history: the good, the bad and the complex

“An ignorance of history can prove fatal for any country. A narrow understanding that only reinforces biases and supports political factions is not much better. Americans need to know the entire story of who we have been — the good, the bad and the complex. That is how we perfect our union. That is how we make one nation from many.”

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/topoftheticket/la-na-tt-american-history-20170704-story.html

Monuments or Memorials? “The Meaning of Our Confederate ‘Monuments’”

Interesting discussion on the difference between “monuments” and “memorials” and how that distinction plays out with the contemporary controversy around the removal of Confederate Civil War statues.

“The debate around these monuments — Should they be destroyed, maintained or removed elsewhere? — has been heated and, I believe, misguided. We should be asking other questions instead: Are these statues really “monuments” by our present standards? Or are they rather “memorials”? Are we misled by the avenue’s name? Do we need to rename the avenue itself as we attempt to remedy our deferred maintenance of history?”

Britain’s view of its history ‘dangerous’, says former museum director

What is the purpose of learning history? How can different nations use their history to accomplish different goals? What are the consequences of telling history in a one sided way, self promoting way?

This article helps us contrast the distinct views Great Britain and Germany have taken toward viewing their own histories. Is one superior to the other? How would we measure success in this regard? Should countries use history to promote patriotism?

“Neil MacGregor, the former director of the British Museum, has bemoaned Britain’s narrow view of its own history, calling it “dangerous and regrettable” for focusing almost exclusively on the “sunny side”.”

“Speaking before the Berlin opening of his highly popular exhibition Germany – Memories of a Nation, MacGregor expressed his admiration for Germany’s rigorous appraisal of its history which he said could not be more different to that of Britain.

“In Britain we use our history in order to comfort us to make us feel stronger, to remind ourselves that we were always, always deep down, good people,” he said. “Maybe we mention a little bit of slave trade here and there, a few wars here and there, but the chapters we insist on are the sunny ones,” he said.”

“He said Germans had given expression to their the worst chapter of their history in extensive memorials and Mahnmale (‘monuments to national shame’). “It’s telling that in English we don’t even have a word like ‘Mahnmal’,” he said. “The term is just too alien to us.””

https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2016/oct/07/britains-view-of-its-history-dangerous-says-former-museum-director

What to do with Woodrow Wilson’s name and legacy at Princeton University

In addition to recent debates around the Confederate flag and statues and memorials to confederate war heroes have been arguments around the names of buildings on college campuses and the ways in which we should remember past historical figures who have recently become unpopular. How should we view or judge historical figures? With the standards of today? Or of their time? Important figures often leave complicated legacies that make it difficult to characterize them simply.

The case of Woodrow Wilson is an interesting one. He helped built Princeton University into much of what it is today in addition to having been a US President. At the same time he held deeply racist views and acted on those views and helped resegregate the federal workforce. How do we reconcile our views on such a person?

Below are some interesting articles on the topic.

The first one briefly summarizes the issue. The following ones are opinion pieces.

Princeton will keep Woodrow Wilson’s name on buildings, but also expand diversity efforts

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2016/04/04/princeton-will-keep-woodrow-wilsons-name-on-buildings-but-it-will-take-steps-to-expand-diversity-and-inclusion/

Here are four opinion pieces on the question

Erasing Woodrow Wilson’s name is not that easy

http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/30/opinions/zelizer-woodrow-wilson-princeton/

Woodrow Wilson’s racism isn’t the only reason for Princeton to shun his name

http://nypost.com/2015/12/03/woodrow-wilsons-racism-isnt-the-only-reason-for-princeton-to-shun-his-name/

The Case Against Woodrow Wilson at Princeton

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/25/opinion/the-case-against-woodrow-wilson-at-princeton.html

What Woodrow Wilson Cost My Grandfather

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/24/opinion/what-woodrow-wilson-cost-my-grandfather.html

Yale Removes Calhoun Name: We Can’t Erase History or Erase It

“One of the goals of chopping away at history is to simplify it into a simple battle between the good, who remain, and the evil, who are wiped away. But that’s not the way history works, nor is it the way politics works.”

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/444919/yale-removes-calhoun-name-foolish-erasure-history