The Monument: Designs and Meanings

Monuments, from the Latin monere, are literally things that warn or remind by offering enduring and often imposing physical messages addressed to contemporaries and to posterity. This seminar investigates monuments and memorials as both cultural and aesthetic endeavors, considering continuities and change in form and meaning across place and time. Monuments may commemorate individuals, groups, actions, events, or even abstract ideas, and to study them requires attention to the histories of art, design, urbanism, politics, patronage, reception, conservation, and the relation of word and image. Students will investigate memorials from antiquity to the present, with a special focus on examples in New York City, many of which draw on a repertory of historical models ranging from obelisks, pyramids, and triumphal arches to commemorative columns, statuary, and gardens. Particular attention will be given to recent debates about monuments’ purpose, form, materials, location, and constituencies; particularly in the case of war memorials and martyria, official commemorations become the site of vigorous contests and disagreements. Because monuments are almost always intended to endure over time, we will examine the challenges of preserving, repairing, adapting, or repurposing them as materials decay and the surrounding contexts change. We will also investigate the boundaries between “private,” often funerary, monuments and “public” ones designed to join the urban fabric, as well as the emergence of counter- or protest monuments and other commemorative strategies designed to question or subvert a monumental language. 3 credits.