The best books on monuments in the era of controversies and removal

Who am I?

Laura A. Macaluso researches and writes about monuments, museums, and material culture. Interested in monuments since the 1990s, the current controversies and iconoclasm (monument removals) have reshaped society across the globe. She works at the intersection of public art and public history, at places such as George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

I wrote...

Monument Culture: International Perspectives on the Future of Monuments in a Changing World

By Laura A. Macaluso,

Book cover of Monument Culture: International Perspectives on the Future of Monuments in a Changing World

What is my book about?

Monument Culture brings together a collection of essays from scholars and cultural critics working on the meanings of monuments and memorials in the second decade of the twenty-first century, a time of great social and political change. The book presents a broad view of the challenges facing individuals and society in making sense of public monuments with contested meanings.

From the United States to Europe to Africa to Australia and New Zealand to South America and beyond, the contributors tackle the ways in which different places approach monuments in a landscape where institutions and ideas are under direct challenge from political and social unrest. It also discusses sharply changed attitudes about the representation of history and memory in the public sphere.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is readers supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves

By Kirk Savage,

Book cover of Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America

Why this book?

Kirk Savage’s book was one of the first critical monographs focusing on the presence and problems of race representation in American monument culture. Written well before monument removals in the 21st century, Savage identified what would become one of the central issues of our time: how Americans have created and sustained racial injustice in the public square via monuments and memorials. This book elevated the study of monuments in American classrooms—and society. The recent controversy over whether to remove the Emancipation Monument by Thomas Ball from public squares in Boston and Washington, DC indicates that Americans have been wrestling with the problems of monuments for a very long time.

Written in Stone

By Sanford Levinson,

Book cover of Written in Stone: Public Monuments in Changing Societies

Why this book?

Sanford Levinson's essay in book form Written in Stone comes in at only 139 pages, but his travels through monument culture in the 20th century around the world grasps the full weight and meaning of monuments in society. Without getting bogged down in art historical detail, Levinson, trained as a lawyer and constitutional scholar, instead grapples with the problems of historical memory. He deftly weaves together examples from inside and outside of the United States, bringing together monuments that continue to be of interest and community concern. Written well before South Carolina removed the Confederate flag from the State Capitol grounds in 2015, Levinson’s book nevertheless remains a useful and even enjoyable critique of historical memory through monuments.

Controversial Monuments and Memorials

By David B. Allison (editor),

Book cover of Controversial Monuments and Memorials: A Guide for Community Leaders

Why this book?

Controversial Monuments and Memorials was published the year after the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, which saw whites rally around the monument to Thomas Jefferson on the University of Virginia campus. This event, and the murders of nine African Americans at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC in 2015, hastened public discord with symbols of the Confederacy and white supremacy. Allison’s book was the first to step into the space where scholars, museum staff, and community activists came together to examine how monuments were used as tools for systemic racism as well as progressive social change. The book is a great resource for those looking to enter the conversation about controversies surrounding monuments and memorials in the United States.

Monument Lab

By Paul M. Farber (editor), Ken Lum (editor),

Book cover of Monument Lab: Creative Speculations for Philadelphia

Why this book?

Monument Lab is one book to get your hands on, if you are curious to know how a historic city can remake its traditional monumental history to become more inclusive and reflective of a holistic past and present. The book is about the organization called Monument Lab, which works with communities, artists, and more to reshape the monument culture of Philadelphia. Filled with short essays and colorful photographs, Monument Lab and Monument Lab the book model the democratic turn towards inclusive monument making in an American city.

Teachable Monuments

By Sierra Rooney (editor), Jennifer Wingate (editor), Harriet F. Senie (editor)

Book cover of Teachable Monuments: Using Public Art to Spark Dialogue and Confront Controversy

Why this book?

Teachable Monuments is an expensive book, but it is also a book useful for integrating the work of scholars with teachers, using monuments to examine and create new meanings from monument culture via curriculum and classroom activities. The book comes after the murder of George Floyd in 2020, a seismic event in the United States and abroad which hastened the removals of many Confederate and Columbus monuments, as well as monuments in Europe and beyond.

Closely Related Book Lists