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Redressing the Likeness of Power: Locating the Pursuit of Justice in the Space of Contested Commemoration

O'Hara, Morgan

The commemoration of historical violence by inscription into the American built landscape is selective. While there have been increasing attempts to expand interpretive representation at sites of contested heritage, relatively little has been undertaken to explicitly address the public's role in calling attention to events effaced by the selective portrayal of history. Inspired by actions taken by protesters in August 2017 to remove a 1924 memorial to Confederate soldiers in Durham, North Carolina, this project explores the role of direct public intervention at monuments whose selective commemoration of power has obscured a dimension of historical violence. Three case studies of critical interventions are developed, which occurred at the Haymarket Riot Monument in Chicago, the J. Marion Sims memorial in New York City, and the Oñate Monument and Visitor's Center in New Mexico. By looking at monuments culturally and geographically, rather than art historically, this project reaffirms the stakes of monument conservation as having lived consequences for communities, as well as for society at large. As stewards of the material traces of history, the conservation fields mediate the public's interaction with symbols of power. Through an examination of narratives both legitimized and obscured through commemorative space, meaningful connections are drawn between the designed intentions of monuments and the organized critique of public voices in asserting agency over complex everyday interactions with the past. By endeavoring to better understand these moments of contestation, preservationists can develop more honest and authentic approaches to conserving fraught representations of history in public space.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Neville, Christopher P.
Degree
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
September 25, 2018
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