In an era of contentious debates about who and what should be commemorated in the public sphere, the conversation has largely been limited to physical monuments like statues, plaques and landmarks. These structures advance narrow cultural narratives about the past, require significant capital to establish, and allow no interaction or annotation by the public. There is little opportunity for most Americans to participate in what gets remembered – yet the hunger is there, visible in heated debates, defaced statues and renamed spaces across the nation.
With a theoretical underpinning in memory studies and public history, the Digital Atlas of Southern Memory presents a prototype for enabling broader participation in the commemoration process.
Users explore a map of the South, revealing which narratives are represented by existing named public spaces and other memorials, and if they find that the dominant narratives don’t tell their story, they can add new digital monuments; hold debates about statues and named spaces; or annotate existing ones by providing context, suggesting alterations or expressing an opinion.
The Atlas aims to be an engine for doing what public history, at its best, should do: meet modern, digital audiences where they are; help them connect with their own history, and awaken a curiosity about what they hope will be remembered.
While it would be impossible to collect all forms of public memory in the South, the DASM presents several narratives that exist there, for which there are reliable data, and displays them in a way that encourages interaction and reflection. Currently, the map reflects streets and public schools in the South named for Confederate generals, Civil Rights Movement leaders and U.S. presidents.
The map is rendered in ArcGIS and uses multiple data sources: Census TIGER/Line 2017 shapefiles of all roads (primary, secondary and local) at the county level in the United States; U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics 2012-2013 public schools database; and a crowdsourced online database of over 15,000 historic markers, Read The Plaque (this last layer still in progress).
Explore the maps of commemoration across the South here. You can also view the prototype for the participatory platform and see how contributions will be logged.
Caroline Klibanoff, Graduate Student, History
Publications and Presentations
“Atlas of Southern Memory: A Digital Intervention in Commemoration.” Northeastern University Graduate Student World History Conference, March 2018
“Effecting Social Change Through the Humanities.” National Humanities Conference, November 2018