HISTART 497-001

Upper Level Seminar: Architecture and Memory

TTh 11:30-1:00pm
3 Credit Seminar

Meets Together with ARCH 509-008

"There is nothing more invisible than a monument," Austrian novelist Robert Musil wrote in 1936. Nothing seems further from the truth right now. During 2020, in Bristol, England, protesters tossed a statue of slave trader Edward Colston into the harbor; in Antwerp, Belgium, activists are defacing bronzes of King Leopold II, once the absolute ruler of the Congo in Africa; in the United States, protesters are toppling Confederate and other monuments in response to the murder of George Floyd; and across the world statues of Christopher Columbus are falling. The vanquishing of these monuments speaks to the welling up of rage and discontent against them—Confederate, patriarchal, colonial, racist, genocidal—, all spatial reminders of structural and representational inequality. It also reveals a special affinity between social protests and monuments; between citizens occupying the streets to demand justice and the dead bronzes standing in their way. Simply put, our monuments no longer reflect who we are. Acknowledging that the way we represent our past is changing, this course asks: How do current monuments "stand up," and what can we do about it?

This seminar examines the ever-fluctuating relationship between memory and the built environment in light of recent associations between memorialization and hegemonic racism. Pierre Nora's Lieux de Memoire (1984), a foundational work on memorialization, describes how modern places of memory–monuments, memorials and buildings–provide a refuge against constant change, and an anchor for the nation-state. Acts of public commemoration, for example, were one of the most visible ways to deal with the aftermath of the Holocaust, producing a vast array of memorials and monuments across the world. And street-names, monuments, museums, memorials, ruins, plaques and guided tours are constant reminders of deep historical roots.

Analyzing objects, buildings, and landscapes through memory, we explore race, gender, postcolonialism, the Holocaust, dark tourism, nostalgia, and memorial activism. As racialized monuments are removed across the world, we might also note the overpowering presence of male figures in public space that is now contested, as memorialization has evolved into a multidirectional global phenomenon. Reading widely across history, memory studies, and the built environment from the mid-nineteenth century to the present, the seminar will give students the ability to trace memorialization as an historiographical artifact and to analyze its role in contemporary cities. In addition, the seminar will include visits and study of a variety of local sites in Detroit and its surroundings if students are on campus, or of monuments, memorials and museums in students' hometowns if teaching is remote.

The course will be run as a reading and "looking" seminar for most of the semester, but a significant part of the seminar is a workshop in which students will present and critique one another's work in a supportive environment. The ultimate goal will be the production of a piece of writing that has the potential to be published. Alternatively, students may propose a design project, with a significant written component, such as an entry in a design competition.

HISTART Distribution Requirements: 4. Modern and Contemporary, D. Europe and the US and E. Latin America and the Caribbean