Historic monuments and markers are in the news for the stories they tell, the people they memorialize, and for the stories left untold. This inquiry uses St. Gaudens’ Shaw Memorial to introduce students to visual thinking and symbolism. It then asks them to analyze the Soldiers’ Monument in Brattleboro and consider the perspectives of those depicted. Finally, students are asked to find and review the markers in their own communities, taking action if they feel it is needed.

Grade Level: Middle-High School

Topics: Monuments & Memorials, Civil War

Compelling Question: Who decides which stories are being told?

Historical Thinking Skills: Historical Empathy, Multiple Perspectives

Background Knowledge

As a class, use this guided worksheet to investigate the Shaw Memorial by St. Gaudens (whose studio is nearby in Cornish, NH). Discuss the message of the monument and whose perspective(s) are shown.  Why do we have monuments?  In summer 2020 the Shaw Memorial was defaced. Ask students how those who defaced the monument might have made a different choice if they had analyzed the memorial more deeply.

A preface to the monument investigation might include a discussion about the removal of monuments. Potential sources:

The question of renaming Jacobs Street in Windsor which includes an audio story

Painting over the Vermont Law School Underground Railroad mural

A black artist statement about how making changes mutes her work

And another take on it all:  Erecting a monument

https://www.nj.com/cape-may-county/2020/07/as-statues-come-down-around-nj-a-new-one-rises-of-social-justice-hero-harriet-tubman.html

Analyzing Primary Sources

Examine this Brattleboro Soldiers’ monument using this multiple viewpoints activity.

Read this article about the monument. What does the class think? Should the monument be modified? Why?

Historical Research

Assignment: Have students find a monument, memorial, or historic marker in their community. Photograph the marker, summarize the information, identify whose story is being told. If students can’t search on foot, here is a complete list of Vermont’s historic makers; here is the list for New Hampshire.  

Use the multiple viewpoints activity to further highlight the stories that are told or are left untold.

Discussion

Whose stories are being told in our community? Are they stories of war? peace? heroes? women? people of color? inventions? 

People have different ideas about what is most important in a marker or memorial. What do you think is most important? Who gets to decide?

Should historic markers or monuments ever be moved or removed? Why?

Summative Assessment

Take action! Whose voices or stories are missing from the markers in your community? Write a persuasive essay proposing a marker or other public program to your local historical society that amplifies a story.

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