When Professor Jeffrey Schnapp introduced the topic of the lecture, the preservation of monuments, the first thing came to my mind was “leave as it is”: preserve, or restore the historical site as how it was, not as how it might potentially be.

However, BZ ’18-’45 defied this convention about monument restoration. A project lead by Professor Jeffrey Schnapp, it re-envisions the Italian Fascist regime monument into an interactive, futuristic museum that makes its statement clear by embedding a large three-banded LED ring to the third column of the monument’s façade in order to alter the meaning of the monument.

A keyword in Professor Schnapp’s presentation was “contextualization”: the popular opinion about a monument shifts unpredictably and the message that a monument conveys could easily be altered by culture; therefore, a monument itself is not an effective tool to provide any historical context or meaning to the people. A monument, therefore, exists no higher than a fancy structure that carries little original information. By “appropriating” the monument BZ ’18-’45, Professor Schnapp introduces people with more information than the monument initially carries and attracts and educates more people than the monument initially intended. This is the new notion about monument restoration and many people would agree with me that it is a rather smart and innovative one.

Last summer I traveled with my friends to China and visited some of the most famous historic sites in the world: The Forbidden City, The Great Wall, and The Summer Palaces. The Forbidden City was partially preserved as it was and partially developed into museums displaying artworks and bronze crafts. However, there was not much interaction in the exhibitions which are mostly still objects locked up in glass boxes. There were only small windows open for people to peek into the preserved portions and with hundreds of people outside tip-toeing to peek in, we could barely immerse ourselves in the historical context of the Forbidden City. The Great Wall also follows the “preserve as it is” logic and the construction was underway to build a walkway so that people would no longer walk on The Great Wall itself. After our return we also read news about some towns attempted to restore the great wall by smoothing all the stairs into a slope using cement and concrete, completely altering The Great Wall’s appearance for the worse. For The Summer Palace, this preservation logic was used to the extreme: after the second opium war, the entire place was looted by the French and British; thousands of treasures were lost while buildings were burnt down and bridges destructed; only ruins remain. The ruins were intentionally preserved, rather than restored, to serve as a “patriotic lesson for the Chinese people” and to this day these historic events, including the first and second opium wars and colonization attempts still evoke strong emotional response among the Chinese people: with less investment and alteration, more people were educated in the way that the government desired and a strong, sometimes distorted patriotism and group identity were formed.

To conclude, the two approaches, preservation and innovation, should both serve the purpose of educating history in an objective, contextualized way, so that people walk away with better knowledge rather than blindly evoked emotional responses.