Year in Review 2020: #5

The statue of Robert E. Lee at Antietam

The ECW Top Ten list of Most-Read blog posts from 2020 has now reached the Top Five! And, yes, we’re back to monuments.

Monuments don’t just commemorate history, they tell stories. Statues also say something about the people who put the statues up as much as they say about the people they portray.

What happens if a statue exhibits “selective memory”?

Our fifth-most-read post of the year used the example of a statue of Robert E. Lee that stands on the Antietam battlefield to ask questions about the stories monuments tell. How are facts chosen and arranged to construct those stories? How should we engage with them?

#5: When a Monument Cherrypicks Its History posted by Chris Mackowski on December 15, 2020

When people have the chance to learn about history, don’t we want that history to be factually correct? That’s the question I asked last week when writing about the Robert E. Lee statue at Antietam. Placed at a spot on the battlefield Lee never visited, the factual inaccuracies inherent in the statue’s placement undermine the value of the statue as an interpretive tool, which is one of the strongest arguments in favor of keeping statues and monuments up. “Shouldn’t accuracy matter?” I asked.

Today I’d like to pose a related question that I didn’t tackle in my first post….

1 Response to Year in Review 2020: #5

  1. Of course the statue isn’t in the right place; it was on private property later acquired by the NPS. Worse (apparently) is that Lee’s hand had been injured and he was being carried about in an ambulance (wagon? stretcher?) on that particular day. By what logic does that lead directly to removing the statue from the Battlefield? Move it to the right place, and put up a sign that says Lee was in full attendance and command despite being injured in such a fashion that he couldn’t ride. Symbolism is an important factor in interpreting art, as is imagination. Rather lacking in this discussion, so far. Or, commission a historically accurate statue of Lee on whatever passed for an ambulance in those days and put it in the right place. And stop making mountains out of molehills, although it’s pretty clear that denigrating and removing Lee is going to cure the world’s ills, according people who have nothing better to do with their time.

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