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.

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The books I picked & why

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

Laura A. Macaluso Why did I love 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.

By Kirk Savage,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A history of U.S. Civil War monuments that shows how they distort history and perpetuate white supremacy

The United States began as a slave society, holding millions of Africans and their descendants in bondage, and remained so until a civil war took the lives of a half million soldiers, some once slaves themselves. Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves explores how the history of slavery and its violent end was told in public spaces-specifically in the sculptural monuments that came to dominate streets, parks, and town squares in nineteenth-century America. Looking at monuments built and unbuilt, Kirk Savage shows how the greatest…


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

Laura A. Macaluso Why did I love 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.

By Sanford Levinson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Written in Stone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Is it "Stalinist" for a formerly communist country to tear down a statue of Stalin? Should the Confederate flag be allowed to fly over the South Carolina state capitol? Is it possible for America to honor General Custer and the Sioux Nation, Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln? Indeed, can a liberal, multicultural society memorialize anyone at all, or is it committed to a strict neutrality about the quality of the lives led by its citizens?

In Written in Stone, legal scholar Sanford Levinson considers the tangled responses of ever-changing societies to the monuments and commemorations created by past regimes or…


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

Laura A. Macaluso Why did I love 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.

By David B. Allison (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Controversial Monuments and Memorials as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Out of the chaos and pain of Charlottesville, museum professionals, public historians, and community leaders must move quickly to face the challenges of competing historical memory, claims of heritage desecration and the ongoing scourge of racism. This book takes on the tough issues that communities across America---and analogous locales overseas---must face as white supremacy, political quagmires and visions of reconciliation with the past collide.

The events of summer of 2017 that culminated in Charlottesville are outgrowths of ongoing dialogues and disputes about controversial history that encompass numerous historical situations and touch every part of US history. Strategies for working effectively…


Book cover of Monument Lab: Creative Speculations for Philadelphia

Laura A. Macaluso Why did I love 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.

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

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Monument Lab as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia? That was the question posed by the curators, artists, scholars, and students who comprise the Philadelphia-based public art and history studio Monument Lab. And in 2017, along with Mural Arts Philadelphia, they produced and organized a groundbreaking, city-wide exhibition of temporary, site-specific works that engaged directly with the community. The installations, by a cohort of diverse artists considering issues of identity, appeared in iconic public squares and neighborhood parks with research and learning labs and prototype monuments.

Monument Lab is a fabulous compendium of the exhibition and a critical…


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

Laura A. Macaluso Why did I love 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.

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

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Teachable Monuments as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Monuments around the world have become the focus of intense and sustained discussions, activism, vandalism, and removal. Since the convulsive events of 2015 and 2017, during which white supremacists committed violence in the shadow of Confederate symbols, and the 2020 nationwide protests against racism and police brutality, protesters and politicians in the United States have removed Confederate monuments, as well as monuments to historical figures like Christopher Columbus and Dr. J. Marion Sims, questioning their legitimacy as present-day heroes that their place in the public sphere reinforces.

The essays included in this anthology offer guidelines and case studies tailored for…


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Book cover of The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

Maryka Biaggio Author Of The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

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Interested in historic sites, slaves, and Philadelphia?

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