UMass Boston

The Ethics of Public Memory


The Confederate flag over the State House in South Carolina, the statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, and the carving of Confederate leaders at Stone Mountain in Georgia all testify to the contentious and sometimes deadly force public memorials can have. 

What do we do with public memorials to bad causes? With statues commemorating those who defended abhorrent ideas? Is removal always the best answer? Does it carry any risks? What are the risks of leaving them in place? What do we lose when we expunge disturbing and offensive monuments from public space? Can the context in which such monuments are viewed and experienced be changed? And how are we to think of what is not memorialized? What are the ethics and politics of absent monuments? 

The Applied Ethics Center's Ethics of Public Memory project takes up these and related questions.

As part of this project we developed a high school curriculum focused the monuments debate. That curriculum was delivered at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School in Cambridge, MA . We have also written a white paper to advise policy makers and community members on how to deal with controversial monuments. At present we are working on a project examining the legacy and memorialization of African American poet Phillis Wheatley, and a project exploring the role of Deer Island in Boston Harbor as a historical site for cleansing Boston from those the who have been perceived as "undesirables". 

The Ethics of Public Memory project has been supported by the Massachusetts Humanities Foundation, Beyond Conflict, the Faculty Staff Union at UMass Boston and the Provost's Office at UMass Boston. 

Watch public lectures on the ethics of memory

High School Syllabus: Confederate Symbols

Topic 1: Introduction

Class 1

- Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy by Southern Poverty Law Center,

-‘Dividing New Orleans’,

Topic 2: The History of the Civil War

Class 2

James M. McPherson, ‘What Caused the Civil War’, North and South 4, no. 1, 2000., pp. 13-22.

Ta-Nehisi Coates ‘What this Cruel War Was Over’

James W. Loewen, ‘Five myths about why the South seceded

Optional Advanced Reading:

Michael E. Woods, “What Twenty-First-Century Historians Have Said about the Causes of Disunion: A Civil War Sesquicentennial Review of the Recent Literature”, The Journal of American History 99, no. 1, 2012, pp. 415-439.


Before discussing the philosophical issues I believe it would be best to get students up to speed on the basic history. Indeed, on many views, the symbolic meaning of confederate monuments turns on questions of history—either the history of the confederate cause itself or the history of confederate monuments.  To begin then, students should learn about the history of the confederate cause itself. My sense for the historical component of the class is that it would not be wise to try to present a controversy here regarding the nature of the confederate cause. Instead we just present the (at least, current) historiographical consensus that puts slavery at the centre of the confederate cause. 

The McPherson article provides a seminal and accessible introduction to the history of the confederate cause.

The Coates article is essentially just a pithy collection of primary sources. 

The Woods article may be too challenging, but it gives a nice overview of the historiography and the reasonable debates that arise therein. 

Topic 3: The History and Function of Confederate Monuments

Class 3:

W. Fitzhugh Brundage, ‘I’ve studied the history of Confederate memorials. Here’s what to do about them. Vox, August 18th, 2007:

James Loewen, Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong, ‘Chapter 45: The White League Begins to Take a Beating’, The New Press: New York, 1999.

Lecture: James Loewen, ‘Confederate Monuments and Memorials’:

Class 4

James Loewen, Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong, The New Press: New York, 1999, pp. 36-43.

Kirk Savage, ‘The Past in the Present: The Life of Memorials’

Lecture: Professor W. Fitzhugh, ‘A Vexing and Awkward Dilemma: The Legacy of a Confederate Landscape’,


The second important historical issue concerns the history of the confederate monuments themselves. Most monuments were built well after the war at the turn of the 20th century and during the Jim Crow era. Although there were exceptions, it is clear the vast majority of monuments were built as part of a general project of historical revisionism and white supremacy. Again, I don’t think it particularly useful to teach any controversy here. The historical consensus seems firm.

Topic 4 – Moral Wrongdoing, Moral Evaluation, and the Past

Class 4

David A. Bell, ‘Is it still okay to venerate George Washington and Thomas Jefferson?’, August 17th, 2017, Washington Post:

Allen Buchanan, ‘Judging the Past: The Case of the Human Radiation Experiments’, The Hastings Center Report, Vol. 26, No. 3, 1996.

Class 5

Peter Unger, Living High and Letting Die, New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, pp. 14-21.

Miranda Fricker ‘Moral Blame’, The Philosopher’s Arms,

Miranda Fricker, ‘Blame and Historic Injustice’ - Interview on Philosophy Bites, 4th March, 2008,

Optional Advanced Reading:

Miranda Fricker, ‘The Relativism of Blame and Williams's Relativism of Distance’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes, Vol. 84 (2010), pp.151-177.


In this topic students discuss questions relating to the moral status of distant historical figures and their conduct. A fairly common type of argument against confederate monuments goes something like the following Disqualification Argument:

(1) Persons who participated in the confederate cause are blameworthy for serious moral wrongdoing.  

(2) Persons who are blameworthy for serious moral wrongdoing are morally disqualified from receiving public honors.

(3) Confederate monuments honor persons who participated in the confederate cause.

(C) Confederate monuments honor persons who are morally disqualified from receiving public honors.

Defenders of confederate monuments rarely defend the confederate cause itself. Instead they argue that confederates are eligible for public honor and veneration in virtue of some other morally laudable quality or action that they manifested in the course of their participation in the confederate cause (for instance martial courage or fraternal loyalty). Regardless, those who make this claim must nonetheless dispute the idea that the in toto conduct of confederates disqualify them from public honors.

One way they can do this is by challenging premise (1). On the moral relativist challenge we deny that confederates did anything wrong in defending slavery because slavery was not wrong relative to the values of Southern society. Ideally, we move on from this argument fairly quickly. Firstly, I don’t think it is an argument that many people actually make. Secondly, we show to students that the moral relativist thesis is highly controversial, and that there are difficulties involved in formulating the view correctly. Thirdly, we show that it is not entirely clear that moral relativism would in fact render slavery permissible. 

The David A. Bell reading and the Allen Buchanan reading (pp. 25-27) will give students useful reading on these issues.

I think we should move on quickly from the moral relativist challenge to the more promising (and actually prosecuted) line of argument concerning the ‘relativism of blame’. On this argument we do not challenge premise (1) by denying that the confederate cause was morally wrong, rather we deny that confederates were blameworthy for their participation (and thus are not disqualified for public honors). On this view, even though we concede that confederates engaged in wrongful action, we also claim that it would be inappropriate or unfair to condemn or blame them for their conduct. As such, they cannot be thought to have morally damaged characters that render them ineligible for public honor. We will consider first Peter Unger’s ‘Moral Progress’ proposal for why one might it think it inappropriate to blame distant historical figures for conduct that has come to be regarded as immoral (Note: Unger does not endorse this argument, but thinks it underpins people’s intuitions about the relativism of blame.) The deficiencies of his explanation will then move us to a ‘culturally induced moral ignorance’ argument against blaming confederates. We will examine this argument and its applicability to the case of confederate figures.

The Peter Unger, Allen Buchanan, and Mirander Fricker readings will cover this topic.

Topic 5 – The Ordinary Soldier Defense

Class 6:

Brandon Crocker, ‘A Unionist’s Case for Preserving (Most) Confederate Monuments’, The American Spectator, August 22nd, 2017,

Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars Fourth Edition, Basic Books: New York, 2006, pp. 34-40

Eric Foner, ‘Selective Memory’, New York Times Book Reviews, March 4th, 2001,


In the previous topic we encountered the argument that confederate figures have been morally tainted by the unjust cause in which they were engaged and thus disqualified as figures of public veneration.  We considered the way in which their historical context might be thought to mitigate their blameworthiness and thus render them appropriate targets of public honors.  Even if we grant that confederates are not guilty of moral failings that disqualify them for public honor we still need to account for just what it is in virtue of which confederates merit public honors. In this topic we explore a commonly pursued answer to this question. Confederate figures are to be venerated in their capacity as soldiers, that is, for their martial virtues (bravery, fraternity, sacrifice, etc.).

The Croker reading will introduce these claims.

The claim is worth exploring at this point in the course for two reasons. Firstly, it is a very prominent line of defense for confederate monuments and thus merits independent investigation. Secondly, in certain respects it follows on from the theme of the previous topic. Just as historical context is thought to mitigate judgments of blame so too one’s status as a soldier is frequently thought to ‘immunize’ individuals against ordinary sorts of moral judgment and appraisal. In particular, many think that a soldier’s moral status is determined independently (at least in part) of the moral status of the cause in which they are engaged (thus, for instance, soldiers engaged in unjust causes are often not thought of as persons who have committed unjustified killings, that is, murders).  I want to start the topic by exploring these questions in the just war literature.

The Walzer reading will cover these issues.

Next, we discuss the applicability of these claims about the special moral status of soldiers in relation to the confederate monument issue. Many people will think it appropriate to honor or memorialize soldiers who are engaged in wars with unjust causes. For instance, one may think the Vietnam or Iraq wars to have been unjust, and yet one might maintain that the American soldiers who engaged in these wars are deserving of public honors and recognition. What, we will ask students, is different about the Confederate case? Why does the injustice of their cause impugn their moral status, or otherwise render them inappropriate targets of public honors?

One obvious difference of course is that Confederate soldiers fought a war of succession. Many of us seem to think that we have special relational ties to soldiers who ‘fought on behalf of our nation’ whether or not they fought in an unjust war. This special relationship that holds between countrymen, makes it appropriate to honor and recognize the efforts of persons who ‘fought on our behalf’ regardless of whether the particular war they fought was justified. Note, however, that the case of civil war introduces special complications. We might say that Vietnam War veterans fought on our (Americans) behalf (even though the war was unjustified) and thus that we as Americans owe these soldiers recognition for their efforts. But the case of the civil war is different. The Confederates didn’t fight on behalf of all Americans, they fought both to secede from America, and to ensure that one class of Americans be held in perpetual bondage. Is it appropriate to expect all Americans (including the descendents of slaves) to recognize the efforts and sacrifices by Confederate soldiers in the same way that it might be appropriate to expect all Americans to recognize American soldiers who fight on behalf of the nation?  

At this point it may be useful to talk about questions of post-conflict transitional justice, and the practical requirements of reconciliation. As a point of historical fact, it does seem like the mutual recognition of martial valor was a critical component of a post conflict political pageantry that helped reconcile North and South. So perhaps we can view monuments honoring soldiers who fought for a secessionist cause as justified on these grounds.

The Foner reading discusses the way in which ‘reconciliationist objectives’ took political precedence in the wake of the war.

Students should, at this point, explore two questions. Even if, post-war, these mutual honors and recognition were a component of political reconciliation, do these same political exigencies apply and thus justify confederate monuments in the present? Secondly whose reconciliation is at stake? The history of reconstruction is the history of Blacks being thrown under the bus in deference to goals of national reconciliation (or at least political expedience). With respect to race relations, bestowing honors on confederate figures could hardly be thought to function as a force for reconciliation. The same thing could be said with respect to the present function of Confederate monuments.


Topic 6 – The Slippery Slope Debate

Class 7:

Berny Belvedere,  ‘Leave the Washington and Jefferson Monuments Alone’, Arc, August 15th, 2017, (

Neil Van Leeuwen, ‘Which Statues Should Go?’

Class 8:

C’Zar Berstein, ‘Why Is The Left Obsessed With Tearing Down Statues?’, Arc, August 16th,

Nicholas Grossman, ‘Your Arguments Against Removing The Statues Are Bad’, Arc, August 19th, 2017,


This topic elaborates on the issue expounded in the previous two topics and provides a bridge into the following topic regarding symbolic meaning. 

Critics of the Disqualification Argument contend that the argument proves too much. If being implicated in, or responsible for, serious moral wrongs disqualifies a person for public veneration, then many if not all of our national heroes will be disqualified. This is thought absurd and thus a reductio of the Disqualification Argument. 

Bernie Belvedere’s article gives a nice exposition of the reductio argument.

The critical response to the reductio argument usually comes in two flavors. Firstly, critics argue that Confederate figures were implicated to a greater degree in the immorality of slavery than were national heroes like Jefferson and Washington. (Though they owned slaves, Jefferson and Washington supposedly lamented and decried the existence of the institution and this might be taken to favorably contrast their characters with those of Confederate figures who either endorsed slavery or choose to fight in its defense). On this line, national heroes like Jefferson did not impugn themselves to the same degree as confederate figures and thus they remain eligible for public honors. The other line of response is to shift the terms of the argument from questions of moral eligibility (for public honor) to questions of meaning. As the argument goes, monuments to national heroes like Jefferson and Washington venerate them for conduct that was morally praiseworthy and positively contributed to the life of the nation. Confederate monuments by contrast are inextricably linked with the confederate cause and the evils of slavery, monuments to these figures must therefore be taken to celebrate them for morally reprehensible conduct (their ideological or material support of slavery). So, on this view, the issue is not about eligibility for public honor, but the meaning of the honors that are bestowed in the case of figures like Washington as opposed to the case of Confederates.

 Bernie Belvedere and Van Leeuwen proffer these sorts of arguments.

Why, however, should we accept the view that statues venerating confederate figures necessarily venerate the confederate cause? Belvedere, for instance, asserts but does not provide an argument for this claim. We might wonder why confederate statues cannot be taken to celebrate the morally laudable aspects and conduct of the confederate figures they represent. Indeed, even where these statues explicitly laud the wartime conduct of these figures it’s not clear why we have to construe this as a celebration of their conduct qua defense of slavery rather than as a display of martial virtue or state solidarity.  We might also offer a political rather than a philosophical version of the slippery slope argument. On this argument we don’t claim that, with respect to the question of memorialization, we cannot draw principled distinctions between Washington and Stonewall Jackson. Instead, we argue that our culture won’t recognize these principled distinctions, and that if we accept the removal of confederate statures leftists will wrongfully push for the removal of monuments to all national (but morally compromised) heroes.

C’Zar Bernstein’s article give us arguments of both sorts.

We can of course push back on many of the previous arguments. Firstly, we can dispute that our political culture is incapable of recognizing principled distinctions, and that confederate removal will invariably lead to inappropriate removals (essentially we accuse the proponent of this argument of the slippery slope fallacy). Secondly, we can offer arguments to distinguish the conduct (and thus eligibility for public honor) of figures like Washington and Lee to rebut the reductio. One prominent line of argument contends that public honors of Lee are inappropriate because he fought against the nation. Essentially he was a traitor and thus disqualified for public honors (however morally laudable he might otherwise have been).

Grossman’s article proffers these arguments.

The central lemma in Belverdere’s argument, however, was that the meaning of confederate statues was inexplicitly bound up with the confederate cause. Bernstein pointed out that this claim was unsupported by Belvedere, and Bernstein gave some tentative arguments against this claim about the meaning of confederate monuments. Neither author, however, directly addresses this question about public meaning. If we think that the central question of the confederate monuments debate is about what they ‘mean’ (as opposed to the moral eligibility of the persons they celebrate), then we have to confront this philosophical question directly. What determines the meaning of confederate monuments? This is the subject of the following topic.  

Topic 7: The Meaning of Confederate Monuments

Class 9:

Torin Alter ‘Symbolic Meaning And the Confederate Battle Flag’, Philosophy in the Contemporary World, Vol. 7, no. 2-3, 2000

Class 10

George Schedler “Minorities and Racist Symbols: A Response to Torin Alter” Philosophy in the Contemporary World Volume 7, Nos. 2-3, 2000


In the previous topics we have been examining the confederate monuments issue primarily as a question of whether Confederate figures were eligible figures for national veneration. We examined whether ‘historical context’ or ‘soldier status’ mitigated the blameworthiness of confederate figures and thus rendered them appropriate subjects of national veneration. We might worry at this point that these questions concerning whether confederate soldiers are deserving of honors are largely orthogonal. The real questions concern how we should understand the symbolic meaning of confederate statues, and how this meaning impacts their moral status. We might add that the ordinary solider defense makes a substantive claim about the meaning of confederate statues and we need to examine this assumption. 

What is the meaning of confederate monuments, and what are the factors that determine their meaning? In popular discourse there is a divide between (i) people who think that the intentions of the historical figures who erected and supported the construction of confederate monuments should determine their symbolic meaning and (ii) people who believe that the understandings of contemporary persons (or rather the ‘public associations’ of symbols) should be thought to determine the meaning of confederate statues. Students will enter into this philosophical controversy regarding ‘meaning’ by examining a version of the aforementioned debate between the philosophers George Schedler and Torin Alter. 

Topic 8: Monuments, Civic Education and the Preservation of History

Class 11

Matthew Boomer, ‘Protestors Are All Wrong About Confederate Statues. They’re Not a Celebration, But A Warning.’ The Federalist, August 16th, 2017:

Scotty Hendricks, “Why People Want to Get Rid of Confederate Statues, as Explained by Plato”, Big Think, August 24, 2017,

Karen L. Cox, ‘The whole point of Confederate monuments is to celebrate white supremacy’, The Washington Post, August 16th, 2017.

Class 12

Ethan J. Kytle and Blain Roberts, ‘Take Down the Confederate Flags, but Not the Monuments’, The Atlantic, June 25th, 2015.

Gary Shapiro ‘The Meaning of Our Confederate ‘Monuments’’, New York Times, May 15th 2017,

Kevin M. Levin, ‘Why I Changed My Mind About Confederate Monuments’, The Atlantic,  August 19th, 2017,


In this topic we evaluate a popular argument in defense of confederate monuments that, in a certain sense, seems to actually concede that confederate monuments have a problematic meaning and evince discredited values. On this argument, however, we contend that the continued presence of confederate monuments in a public setting, and a forced confrontation with, and exposure of the American public to the problematic history and values of the past, serves the salutary function of civic education. 

            One version of this argument, contends that confederate monuments are ‘part of the historical record’, and that removing (and perhaps even modifying) these monuments is tantamount to historical revisionism and an attempt to whitewash America’s history. Usually this claim is supplemented by the further argument that the ‘warts and all’ confrontation of American History that is engendered through publicly situated confederate monuments will serve as a warning and reminder not to repeat these past mistakes.

The Boomer article gives us a basic presentation of this view.

One quick rejoinder to this view is that monuments do not mark and record history but are instead a means by which a society—through its decisions regarding who deserves honor—expresses its values. There is thus no historical denial or revision of the historical record that is entailed by decisions to remove or modify existing monuments.

The Hendricks article presents this view.

Another common response to the historical preservation argument is to point out that many of the confederate monuments were themselves an exercise in historical revisionism and part of an effort to whitewash the true nature of the South’s role and conduct in the civil war. Taking down these monuments is thus to correct (not distort) the historical record and the public’s understanding of that record.

Cox gives us this rejoinder.

Of course, the historical preservation argument can be turned against this rejoinder. On this argument, it is conceded that confederate monuments were themselves an exercise of historical revisionism and an attempt to enshrine the values of white supremacy in the Jim Crow era. However, it is claimed that it is this Jim Crow era of history that we must preserve by letting stand the confederate monuments that were built in this era. Usually those making this argument claim that contextualization of some sort will be necessary if the monuments are to function as intended.

Lytle and Roberts give us an example of this sort of argument.

One interesting facet of Boomer’s article is that he concedes that some Americans do not draw this salutatory lesson from confederate monuments and instead rally around these monuments as totems to white supremacy and/or a romanticized view of the past. This raises an interesting question regarding whether or not Confederate monuments do, or can, function as testaments to a problematic history. Gary Shapiro introduces us to the useful distinction between the ‘monumental’ and the ‘memorializing’ mode: “We erect monuments so that we shall always remember, and build memorials so that we shall never forget.” Monuments, Danto wrote, “commemorate the memorable and embody the myths of beginnings. Memorials ritualize remembrance and mark the reality of ends.” As Shapiro points out many proponents of the ‘preservation of history defense’ are disingenuous. They actually want to preserve the heroic aura of confederate monuments, but they then defend these statues with the memorial’s principles (to never forget a problematic history). It doesn’t help, of course, that the statures were themselves built in the monumentalizing spirit and thus have aesthetic qualities and public placement that would seem to valorize and celebrate their subjects. We can thus push students to question the extent to which confederate monuments actually can and do serve the function of solemn historical remembrance. Can efforts of contextualization successfully frame these monuments in the correct way? Or do these monuments have aesthetic qualities, historical associations, and exist in a social context that resist these efforts of contextualization?

Gary Shapiro reading is obviously relevant here. The Levin article also argues against the view that confederate statues are needed to preserve memory of America’s problematic past. Moreover, he argues that this function would not justify the expressive harm and offence that these monuments continue to cause.

Topic 9: Monuments and Meaning: Offense and Dishonor

Class 13

Blain Roberts and Ethan J. Kytle, ‘Unsure about Confederate statues? As yourself if you support white supremacy, The Fresno Bee, August 16, 2017,

Mitch Landrieu’s Speech on the Removal of Confederate Monuments in New Orleans

Many argue that confederate monument demean, dishonor, or offend Black Americans. I want students to examine these claims in this topic.  Students will be pushed to connect their claims here (affirmative or negative) with their views on how the meaning on confederate monuments is determined. This will comprise the first half on the topic’s discussion. In the second half of the class, student will think through the following question: If we grant that Confederate monuments have a demeaning or offensive symbolic meaning for Black Americans what are the moral and political implications of this fact? If the monuments are offensive why is this a problem of justice?

Topic 10: Monuments, Meaning and the Law (This topic has difficult readings. It can be safely skipped, if it proves too difficult, or if other classes and topics run over time.)

Class 14

Jacob T. Levy, ‘State Symbols and Multiculturalism’, Philosophy and Public Policy Quarterly, Vol.20, No. 4, 2000.

Class 15

James Foreman, Jr., ’Driving Dixie Down: Removing the Confederate Flag from the Southern State Capitols’, Yale Law Review 101, 1991, pp. 505-516.

Class 16

Stanford Levinson, Written in Stone, Duke University Press, 1998, pp. 90-110.


This topic continues the subject of the previous topic in thinking through the legal implications of the claim that Confederate monuments have a demeaning or offensive symbolic meaning. Students will be asked to consider the political and jurisprudential questions that arise given the state’s roles and implication in these displays.  

We start the class with a general examination of questions of state symbolism in political morality. Can we treat this issue as a straightforward question of distributive justice? Do ‘recognitional issues’ raise distinctive questions of justice? What difference does the imprimatur of the state make with respect to exclusionary or offensive symbols?

The Levy article will introduce these general issues.

We then move on to the argument that confederate displays constitute discriminatory state action in violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. This issue turns on whether (i) confederate displays can be construed as a state action, (ii) whether we can understand these displays as having being erected with ‘discriminatory intent’ (and failing to serve a compelling state interest.) and (iii) whether the displays have an politically exclusionary, stigmatizing, or pejorative meaning that has disparate impact along racial lines.

The Foreman article will introduce these issues and argue that when we understand the social and historical context in which confederate displays stand, we will be able to judge these displays as violating the 14th amendment in accordance with jurisprudential reasoning correctly introduced by Brown.

The Levinson article raises some complications and reservations with Foreman’s argument. He also makes an independent argument that ‘political’ issues of this sought should as much as possible be resolved outside of the courts.

Topic 11 – Policy and Politics: What to do about Confederate Monuments

Class 17

 ‘Dan Demetriou and Ajume Wingo, ‘The Ethics of Racist Monuments’, To appear in Palgrave Handbook of Philosophy and Public Policy (David Boonin, ed.).

Lecture: Organization of American Historians, ‘Confederate Monuments: What to Do?’ – From 25:00.

Class 18

- Kevin Levin, ‘The Challenge of Contextualizing Confederate Monuments’, Civil War Memory, August 14th, 2015,

Anne E. Marshall, ‘Historian on ‘Confederate Kentucky: Time to remove the statues’, Lexington Herald Leader, August 16, 2017,

Civil War Times Magazine, ‘Empty Pedestals: What should be done with civic monuments to the Confederacy and its leaders’,

Megan Kate Nelson, ‘Transforming White Supremacist Memorials, Part 2: Recent Acts of Creative Protest’,


At this point in the course, I want students to start drawing together their views and conclusions regarding the various issues discussed (in the course) into an overall position on Confederate Monuments. Firstly, I want students to connect their views about the meaning and function of confederate monuments with a set of policies and principles for deciding what should be done with these monuments. Do their views entail that all confederate monuments should be removed? Do they support the removal of only a certain class of monuments? Do they instead support efforts of contextualization, if so, which monuments require contextualization and why? Secondly, I want students to think about the mechanisms for implementing their favored policies. Should the question be decided through legal appeals, democratic politics, or simply social pressure? Should the decisions be determined at the local or national level? Finally, I want students to consider broader question of public policy. Given our current social and political realities what policies are possible and/or advisable?

The Demetriou and Wingo article gives an overview of these issues, and will provide a good starting point for students thinking about these questions.

The Levin article will help students think through some of the challenges facing the contextualist position as well as its application.

The Marshall reading will prompt students to think through the specific policy implications of the ‘intent view’ of monument meaning.

The Civil War Times Magazine gives a gamut of different opinions.


Topic 12 – Case Studies

Class 19 – Confederate Monuments

A) List of Confederate Figures found in

B) ‘Silent Sam’,

D) Boston Harbour Monument:

E) Plaques to Washington and Lee in Church: “Historic Virginia church to relocate Washington, Lee plaques,” Chicago Tribune, October 29, 2017, 

*This is a tentative list. But the key here is to use examples that implicate issues discussed in the course. It would be even better if we have cases in which some action has been proposed or taken. Students can discuss whether they agree with these legal and extra-legal responses.


Class 20 – Non-Confederate Monuments

A) James Marion Sims:

B) Faneuil Hall:

C) Thomas Jefferson and George Washington:

D) Thomas Jefferson on the UVA campus:

*Again, this is a tentative list. The purpose here is to see to extent to which the moral and philosophical issues with confederate monuments generalize to other sorts of cases and issues.

White Paper on Monuments and Commemorations

The Applied Ethics Center is collaborating with the NGO Beyond Conflict on a new initiative to examine contested histories in the US and abroad.

The Contested Histories Initiative (CHI) is a global effort to examine the issues surrounding statues, street names, and other historical legacies in public spaces with an aim to identify principles, processes, and best practices for decision-makers, civil society advocates, and educators confronting the complexities of divisive historical memory.

As part of this initiative the Applied Ethics Center has produced a white paper to help policy makers and community members think through debates about contorversial monuments and commemorations.

The paper answers some of the following questions: What is a monument? Why do monuments matter? What are some of the arguments against removing problematic monumnets and do they hold up to scrutiny? What kind of strategies are available for dealing with problematic monuments beyond removal? 

You can find more details about the Contested Histories initiative and download the paper here.

The Deer Island Initiative

This project aims to trace the role of Deer Island as a site of attempted genocide, exclusion, and political “purification” in the last four centuries.

As the first stage of this project, the Applied Ethics Center supported research about the use of Deer Island as a concentration camp for Nipmucs and members of other Indigenous tribal nations during King Philip's War in the 17th Century.

After the materials were posted, we heard from indigenous people, descendants of the survivors of the Deer Island incarceration,  who  reminded us of our ethical responsibilities, as a settler-colonial institution, to the descendant communities regarding substantial engagement and consultation concerning whether and how the history of their ancestors is to be recounted.

They are right to expect this and we have removed the materials from the website. We apologize for the damage the premature posting has caused. Future materials will be posted only after such consultation has taken place.   

Ethics of Public Memory

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