The aim of this course is to understand the ways in which various groups of Southerners have recalled their pasts. In particular, the goal is to explore what different Southerners have chosen to remember and to forget and also to analyze the reasons why they have done so. Throughout the course the role of class, gender, and racial ideology in shaping collective memory is emphasized.
In addition to familiarizing students with the concept of historical memory and the social construction of landscapes, this course aims to teach and further hone best practices” in historical research. By the conclusion of the course, students will have gained skills in using manuscripts, newspapers, photographic images, maps, and other primary sources. The students’ work can take many forms, including an online site or contributions to the Commemorative Landscapes site itself. If their work is made accessible to the public, then the course provides an excellent opportunity to discuss the creation of public knowledge (such as an historical website).
This course will expand students' knowledge of major ideas and issues in the study of memory and regional identity, and allow students to practice and develop skills in working with historical materials (especially digital historical materials). Many of these skills are useful in other realms and will make students critical and informed consumers of history in the public arena.
Key issues will include:
Key tasks will include:
The course grading structure is set up to reinforce students’ commitment to joint work to create high-quality digital content and to guide students through a process of doing historical research in a way that will build and reinforce skills of historical thinking, research, digital data management, and development of meaningful, accurate, and insightful historical narratives for public benefit.
Introduction: Course Goals and Organization
Discussion Topic: Historical Memory and Regional Identity
The goal of this week’s readings is to introduce students to the concept of historical memory and to discuss its utility. In short, what questions can we answer by taking into account historical memory?
Skill Development discussed in class: Research in historical newspapers
Students will be introduced to research in historical newspapers. Students should be familiarized with the mechanical processes of viewing stories in microfilmed historical newspapers as well as searching online archives of historical newspapers.
Discussion Topic: What is a Commemorative Landscape?
The aim of this week is to enable students to identify landscapes that have significance as “sites of memory.” Students typically have no difficulty identifying historic buildings or shrines as “sites of memory,” but they may pay little attention to the function that street names or architectural styles, for example, play in the expression and perpetuation of historical memory.
Skill development discussed in class: How to gather and record high quality metadata about historical landscapes
Students should be taught proper research techniques (e.g., accurate and thorough documentation of research and sources; accurate transcription of historic passages and quotations). The specific information to be gathered about monuments/landscapes should be discussed. See metadata definitions and template.
Discussion Topic: “Reading” Monuments and Commemorative Landscapes
The purpose of this week’s readings is to alert the students to the rich vocabularies that are employed by the creators of historic sites of memory. Students may recognize a historical landscape as significant when they see it, but they may not be able to interpret or understand many of the cultural symbols incorporated in the site. There readings give students a sampler of the various symbolic languages that different communities have used to memorialize their past.
Skill development discussed in class: How to work collaboratively
Students probably associate collaborative work with science classes and labs, but not history courses. Nevertheless, large research projects in history no less than other disciplines benefit from collaborations among researchers. This session should introduce students to the value of collaboration and their obligations to their partners when engaged in collaborative work.
This week’s readings highlight contests over historical memory and the different ways and sites in which those contests become visible. These readings underscore the role that political, economic, and social power play when contests over memory are waged. Although power is a facet of all contests over historical memory, only some struggles expose fully the underlying inequalities of power characteristic of the society in question. Students should consider why white Southerners either ignored or acknowledged African Americans' versions of historical events.
Skill development discussed in class: Research in manuscript archives
Most undergraduates have little if any experience researching in archive collections. If local archives are accessible and relevant, students should be introduced to the challenges and pleasures of sifting through them. Otherwise, students can be introduced to online archival research using the digitized archives available through the Commemorative Landscapes project or the Southern Historical Collection. This exercise should familiarize students with best practices to search in both “hard copy” and virtual archival collections.
Discussion Topic: Reenacting Memory and Rituals of Commemoration
The aim of this week is to alert students to the connection between historic spaces and rituals of commemoration. Typically, the communities that create sites of memory also devise rituals in those spaces with the intention of keeping their memory “alive.” These rituals, no less than the space, are vital to propagate memory for future generations. This week’s readings offer a sampler of rituals of memory by white Southerners after the Civil War, African Americans after emancipation, and ethnic Americans in the Southern highlands.
Skill development discussed in class: Research in visual materials
The purpose of this skill set is to familiarize students with the value of historical photographs and images in the study of historical memory. Some of these skills are self-evident. But others are subtle. In addition, students may not be familiar with local or virtual archives where photographs are stored.
Discussion Topic: Consuming Memory: Tourism and Historical Memory
These readings introduce students to the connections between historical memory and the commercialization of memory. The South offers a conspicuous illustration of the commercialization of “place.” These readings dovetail with earlier readings, but also highlight the ways in which the marketplace shapes historical memory.
Discussion Topic: What Good Are Commemorative Landscapes Anyway?
Having gained a familiarity with the concept of historical memory and the evolution of some of the historical memories within the American South, students are now in a position to discuss the usefulness, value, and relevance of commemoration to contemporary society. They also are in a position to speculate about how commemorative practices may change in the future.
Week Nine, Ten, etc.
The collaborative teams of students can present their research to their peers. This exercise provides them with an opportunity to hone their presentation skills and to discuss their research conclusions. If they are producing web content, they can demonstrate their work to the class and make it available for their peers to view it and comment on it.
The final class can be devoted to a free-wheeling assessment of the course, the students’ work, and the larger implications of the course. It also is an appropriate time to encourage the students to think about how best to share their work with the public. One of the aims of this course can be to alert undergraduates that they can produce historical research of interest to and accessible by the public. History, in short, is not the unique preserve of academic historians or monographs that gather dust in the library.