In Jeffrey Schnapp’s lecture, he makes a compelling argument on the subject of curating and revitalizing monuments in the modern age. Throughout the 20th century, the rise of fascism in Europe led to an epidemic of radically different monuments with stark aesthetics that marked an ominous development in world history. With the fall of fascism, the monuments still remained, and the question arose of what to do with these monuments that signified a dark time in history. I found his solution of what to do with the monument in a small town in Italy very interesting. His “wedding ring” addition to the column does exactly what it is meant to: get a conversation going about what the monument means and how we remember the past.
However, while debates surrounding controversial monuments have certainly become a hot button issue in the 20th and 21st centuries, controversial monuments are nothing new to human society. Humans have been creating monuments for as long as recorded human history, and even before recorded history, and monuments in the past could be just as controversial as in modern times. For example, in Ancient Greece, Greeks put up all sorts of monuments for important things. After the Peloponnesian War, which was a series of conflicts between rival Greek city states, mainly Athens and Sparta, hostilities resumed between Sparta, the foremost infantry-based military power of the Greek city states, and their allies, and a coalition of Thebes, a state that had recently rose to prominence, and their allies. In the battle, the Theban commander, Epaminondas, employed a radically different battle formation, which resulted in a decisive Theban victory, and crippled the Spartan’s military abilities to a point from which they never truly recovered. After the battle, the Thebans erected a monument to their victory at Leuctra in the form of a large column with Greek shields carved into it, as well as more complex elements, which have since crumbled into ruins. While it may seem perfectly normal to create a monument to victory, the monument of Leuctra was very controversial at the time, and came under a fair amount of criticism. This was because ancient Greeks typically did not erect permanent monuments for their victories against fellow Greeks due to a tradition of Panhellenic values. They did, however, erect permanent monuments for victories against non-Greek enemies, such as their victories against the Persian Empire at Marathon, Thermopylae, and Plataea. Erecting the monument at Leuctra signaled an erosion of the customs binding Greeks together, which had been stressed to the breaking point during the Peloponnesian War, and would not heal for some time.
Overall, I enjoyed Schnapp’s lecture. I also found that his answers to the questions regarding monuments to colonialists on college campuses very reasonable. It seems that there is a trend on college campuses to erase history without regard for the context in which historical figure lived, and it’s refreshing to hear someone so invested in this field to advocate for having a more open conversation regarding this subject.