The past shapes the present. It is important to regard history in this way. Jeffrey Schnapp’s lecture about uncomfortable monuments argued this same point. He believes that it is important to find modern meaning in monuments that no longer make sense in the modern day. He defines a monument as a “stimulus of thought”. Monuments hold historical value; describing what the social values were of the time period they were constructed. However, he has come to realize that monuments oppose our industrial nature. We live in an industrial era that values progress and change, rather than idealizing the past. To this end, we believe that buildings should function for the living, rather than memorialize people of long ago that does not serve a relevant purpose for today’s industries or institutions.
It is easy to want to preserve monuments in which the history we believe supports their memorialization. Because victors write history, their monuments reflect the victorious side. Therefore, if someone said they were going to tear down Ground Zero people, at least western countries would be very upset. This monument still holds relevance in today’s society, as many of us were immediately affected by this tragedy. However, what if the monument did not reflect the majority’s views? Schnapp explored this question with the Monumento All Vittoria on the border of Austria and Italy. After World War 1, the Italians constructed the monument to send a message to Austria. The Eastern side of the monument spoke of enlightenment, and the northern side criticized the “barbarians” that lived there, a direct insult to the Germanic populations. Recently, this monument was recontextualized, an ode to the history of what occurred on the border of Italy and Austria.
Naturally, history has victors and therefore losers, as well. However, that does not mean that the victors are inherently good. Looking back on the history of the U.S., our ancestors made many horrible choices and oppressed and tortured many people. And often, we do not acknowledge the role our ancestors and our race played in history. In fact, some of our textbooks are trying to rid their pages of conversations about slavery. We cannot rewrite history, and we must recognize the mistakes our countries have made. And I believe that is imperative when discussing monuments as well. Our monuments are symbols of our histories, even if we are ashamed of what they are symbolizing. We must acknowledge and feel uncomfortable with this information. Schnapp speaks about critical reframing rather than critical demolition to understand modern monuments. Following my example, I do not support monuments that uphold slavery, however I think that it is important to create an educational space where we can discuss the horrors and the public approval of the horrors that existed. In this way, we can learn from our past mistakes. In order to understand our current situation, we must learn from our past. Monuments should serve as educational tools that can spread awareness about our histories. However, we must be sensitive to how they are remade, just like we must be sensitive in what we are including in our textbooks. The information must be accurate, with the purpose to inform, rather than to erase or sympathize with the oppressors. Racism, sexism, homophobia still exists in the U.S. and we must learn how to understand our history regarding minorities, and how we can value and support them in the future.