Memorials are commonly studied as part of the commemorative infrastructure of modern society. Just as often, they are understood as sites of political contestation, where people battle over the meaning of events. But most of the time, they are neither. Instead, they take their rest as ordinary objects, part of the street furniture of urban life. Most memorials are “turned on” only on special days, such as Memorial Day, or at heated moments, as in August 2017, when the Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville was overtaken by a political maelstrom. The rest of the time they are turned off. This book is about the everyday life of memorials. It explores their relationship to the pulses of daily life, their meaning within this quotidian context, and their place within the development of modern cities. Through Andrew Shanken’s close historical readings of memorials, both well-known and obscure, two distinct strands of scholarship are thus brought together: the study of the everyday and memory studies. From the introduction of modern memorials in the wake of the French Revolution through the recent destruction of Confederate monuments, memorials have oscillated between the everyday and the “not-everyday.” In fact, memorials have been implicated in the very structure of these categories. The Everyday Life of Memorials explores how memorials end up where they are, grow invisible, fight with traffic, get moved, are assembled into memorial zones, and are drawn anew into commemorations and political maelstroms that their original sponsors never could have imagined. Finally, exploring how people behave at memorials and what memorials ask of people reveals just how strange the commemorative infrastructure of modernity is.
“What exactly do memorials do when they aren’t the focus of ceremonies or protests? A great deal, it turns out. Andrew Shanken looks at ‘the everyday life of memorials’ with refreshing curiosity and open-mindedness, with both a sense of tragedy and a sense of humor. It is a revelation, in our day of bitter polemics over memorials, to find someone speaking about them without shouting.” — Michael Lewis, Faison-Pierson-Stoddard Professor of Art History, Williams College
“A startling meditation on the ways monuments defy the everyday and succumb to it. The Everyday Life of Memorials will change how we think about monuments—whether they stupefy, enrage, or move us.” — Kirk Savage, William S. Dietrich II Professor of History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh
“In the agony of temporality, the urge to engrave time in solid rock, like millions of years old fossilized ammonites, is as old as humanity. We solidify time, retain memory, and orchestrate commemoration in memorials, the oldest and yet most ridiculous form of public manipulation. Solidified urban monoliths then suddenly erupt into volcanos, like predators waiting for prey. In between its erection and its overthrow, day by day, century by century, the memorial quietly ripples on. The Everyday Life of Memorials turns that unspoken memorial upside down. It makes the monumental silence speak. In fact, Andrew Shanken shows us the memorial as we know it best.” — Hans van Houwelingen, visual artist