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Opinion: Toppling statues is an American tradition, not historical erasure

Lawrence Hatter

By Lawrence Hatter associate professor of early American history at Washington State University

In the searing July heat in New York City, radical militants gathered in a Manhattan park, determined to tear down a statue. Over the past few years, this public monument had become the focus of protests against unpopular government measures, including a shocking act of police brutality in Boston that cost the lives of five civilians. The statue was a frequent target of graffiti. This time, however, it was coming down. With ropes tied around the statue, protesters heaved together, pulling it down. In the frenzy that followed, the crowd decapitated the statue and cut up what remained.

This event in New York almost 250 years ago could almost be snatched from today’s headlines. Over the past few weeks, a popular wave of Black Lives Matter protests against systemic racism has targeted statues around the globe in response to the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department. From the felling of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Richmond, Virginia, to a crowd throwing the slave trader Edward Colston into the sea in the English port city of Bristol, protesters have attacked symbols of white supremacy in our commemorative landscape.

Monuments are not history. They may depict historical figures or events, but statues and other monuments use the past to articulate the civic values of the present. Statues demonstrate what it is that we want to celebrate about the past. Statues are about our collective memory; they are not history itself. We can remove statues without erasing the past.

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Enhancing research, creative activity in the arts and humanities

Eleven of Washington State University’s most innovative scholars and artists have been selected for faculty fellowships and mini-grants from the Center for Arts and Humanities (CAH) and the Office of Research.

Todd Butler.

“We are excited to support faculty as they advance not only their academic fields but also the communities we serve,” said Todd Butler, director of the center and associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Funded by a five-year commitment from the Office of Research and its strategic research investment program, the center’s grant programs strengthen and enhance research and creative endeavors across WSU. Any faculty member pursuing arts and humanities-related work, regardless of rank or home department, is eligible to apply.

“This year, almost all of the arts and humanities departments—as well as associated faculty working in the social sciences—were represented in the proposals submitted, testifying to the ongoing vitality and reach of these disciplines at Washington State University,” said Butler.

Reflecting upon her CAH experience, School of Music instructor and 2019 faculty fellow Melissa Parkhurst said, “The CAH Faculty Fellowship put me in regular communication with a group of dedicated interdisciplinary scholars. I gained a vital support network, valuable feedback, and ideas for future projects.”

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WSU Insider

‘It’s a complicated thing’: Meaning of the Fourth of July in flux as fight for equal rights continues

Fourth of July wasn’t widely celebrated during the American Revolution because the country was at war and only about a third of the population strongly supported a split with Great Britain. Up through the 1790s, the leaders of the country, including George Washington, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, were Federalists who had some disagreements with the main author of the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson. They were more likely to point to the Constitution.

Steven Fountain.

“The soaring language of the Declaration of Independence has always been a conundrum, and what it represented to people in the nation it helped create has meant different things to different people at different times,” said Steven Fountain, a history professor and director of Native American Affairs on the Washington State University Vancouver campus.

Clif Stratton.

“The people who signed the Declaration were mainly interested in a type of freedom for themselves and others like them,” said Clif Stratton, associate professor of American history at WSU. It was freedom from the restraints the British put on them, and the freedom to settle more lands.

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The Spokesman-Review

Defunding War & Cops

Laurie Mercier.

Laurie Mercier, professor of history at Washington State University, talks with Michael Brenes, lecturer in history at Yale University and author of the forthcoming For Might and Right: Cold War Defense Spending and the Remaking of American Democracy, on what we can learn from the long history of efforts to defund the post-World War II military state in order to support efforts to defund the domestic militarized police state, and how we might reimagine public spending.

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Introducing students to the Palouse

Every year students from across Washington and around the world come to study at Washington State University. But during their time here, how much do they really get to know the beauty, history, and unique landscapes of their Palouse home?

An interdisciplinary WSU team, including faculty from Earth sciences and history, has received a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant to develop a series of courses for students to dig deeply into Palouse history and culture. They hope the program will give students a greater understanding of the unique region while also helping them to grow strong roots — building understanding of what it means to be an active citizen and to be part of a community wherever they end up. The project is one of 224 education grants for curriculum innovation in the humanities awarded by NEH.

The Palouse Matters program will consist of humanities-oriented, interdisciplinary classes that focus on the Palouse and its landscapes. The courses, which will include “Landscapes of the Palouse,” “Digital Palouse,” and “Reading the American Landscape,” will combine content and methods from environmental history, design, ecology, cultural landscape studies, and place-based education, enabling students to make connections among seemingly incongruous subjects and diverse populations.

With the one-year planning grant, the researchers hope to begin offering the courses as part of a new, general education humanities pathway in fall of 2021.

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WSU Insider