Ah, public monuments. They’re how we remember important events and help define who we think we are. Dan Solove’s recent posts on courthouses reminds me of how much we’re concerned with presenting the right image to communities. And there’s been a lot of writing about the function that courthouse architecture has served in American history. Moreover, lots of folks are writing these days about monuments and their meaning. Sanford Levinson’s charming book, Written in Stone covers a lot of ground in a little bit of space. And people are talking more about removing monuments from parks or renaming them (such as the Nathan Bedford Forrest Park in Memphis). Sewanee: The University of South is going through something like this right now.
I haven’t seen any serious commentary (in the blogosphere or elsewhere) on the United Daughters of the Confederacy v. Vanderbilt University, decided last May by the Tennessee Court of Appeals. Perhaps, though, it warrants a little bit of attention. It has some things to say about long-term contracts, the right of donees to alter monuments (like changing the names of buildings), and even how we remember the Civil War. The case arose from the effort of Vanderbilt University in 2002 to rename a dormitory on its campus from “Confederate Memorial Hall” to “Memorial Hall.