August 2017


Students will:

  • Understand the idea of historical memory.
  • Contextualize recent events in Charlottesville within a larger historical controversy.
  • Apply the concept of historical memory to the controversy over Confederate monuments.
  • Appraise media sources that express a range of views on Confederate monuments.

Note to Teachers

Remind students that conversations about events in Charlottesville and commemorations of the Confederacy will likely raise issues related to racism and power, which can be emotional. As you discuss these issues with your class, remind students that it is important to be respectful of the experiences of others, to think before they speak, and to be prepared to support their statements with facts.

We encourage teachers to consider carefully the dynamics of their classrooms as they prepare to use these materials. For example, students with different racial identities and/or political views may experience this lesson differently. Discussions can take unexpected turns. Students may unwittingly offend each other. The process of exploring the unequal power dynamics of racism can lead students to lash out in anger or to suffer in silence. Teachers need to be aware of these possibilities and act to make their classrooms a safe place for all students. While we cannot offer a formula for dealing with all situations, being prepared for many possible outcomes will go a long way to helping students consider these critical issues.

You should also read and view all sources before sharing them with students to be sure that they are appropriate for your classroom.

Finally, it is important to remind students that this lesson will not cover all aspects of the Charlottesville events. Today’s work will help them understand the events within a certain framework. Additional questions and ideas will arise that students can explore in future lessons or through individual research.

We recommend teaching this lesson over the course of two or more class periods. Alternatively, you might assign the introductory reading as homework the night before to leave more time for video and media source analysis in class. We encourage you to adapt this lesson to meet the needs of your classroom.


“Introduction—The Charlottesville Protests”

“Video Worksheet: Historical Memory”

“Media Source Set”

“Analyzing Your Sources”


The following Choices videos are used in this lesson:

Short video introduction

“What is historical memory?”

“How do governments and citizens shape historical memory?”

“What are the consequences of forgetting historical violence?”

“What is the difference between history and memory?”

In the Classroom

1. Activating Prior Knowledge

After discussing with students the importance of sensitivity, empathy, and respect when having conversations about controversial topics, begin class by posing the following question: What have you heard about the protests that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia from August 11-13? Ask students to turn to their neighbor and share their thoughts. You may wish to prompt them to consider who was involved, what different groups believed or wanted, what happened and how different groups experienced those events, and how people responded to the events.

Next, pose the following questions: How did you learn about the events in Charlottesville? What questions do you still have about these events? Invite the class to respond.

2. Learning About the Charlottesville Controversy

Once students have shared their understandings of the events in Charlottesville, distribute the handout “Introduction—The Charlottesville Protests” to every student. Ask students to read the handout silently, or you may choose to read it aloud together. After everyone has had a chance to read more about the controversy in Charlottesville, ask students to reflect on how the reading added to, conflicted with, or changed what students thought they knew.

If students have not already linked the events in Charlottesville to the broader controversy surrounding Confederate monuments across the United States, ask students to share what they understand so far about this connection. Then play the short Choices video introduction that contextualizes Charlottesville within the larger controversy. Invite students to respond briefly to the video.

3. Introducing Historical Memory

Ask students if they are familiar with the term “historical memory.” Inform students that they will learn more about this concept during this lesson.

Introduce the three essential questions that will guide students’ thinking during this lesson. Post these questions on the board for reference throughout the lesson.

  • How do recent events in Charlottesville illuminate a broader controversy around Confederate monuments in the United States?
  • What is the role of historical memory in this controversy?
  • What is the role of power in this controversy?

4. Exploring Historical Memory

Explain to students that they will be viewing four short video interviews with scholars. The videos will introduce the idea of historical memory. Distribute “Video Worksheet: Historical Memory.” As a class, watch the videos listed in the Videos section above. For each video, after playing it once through, replay and pause at the quotations highlighted on the student worksheet. (The video timecode for each quotation is listed on the worksheet.) Give students a chance to respond to the corresponding quotation on the handout, using their own words to restate what they think the scholar’s statement means. Review student responses together as a class and clarify concepts as necessary before moving on to the next video. Encourage students to start making connections between the concepts in the videos and what they know about the current controversy over Confederate monuments.

5. Analyzing Media Sources

Tell students that scholars are not the only people who think critically about the ideas of history and memory. Remind students that many stories in the media have also featured discussions of these concepts in relation to the controversy over Confederate monuments. Distribute the handouts “Media Source Set” and “Analyzing Your Sources,” and inform students that they will be analyzing a small selection of media sources that express different perspectives on this controversy. Direct students to follow the instructions on the handouts. You may wish to have students work with a partner. (Note that this will likely be the longest portion of the lesson, as there are six sources for students to read and synthesize.)

6. Synthesis Discussion

Invite students to draw on the media sources they analyzed as well as the scholar videos on historical memory. Begin a class discussion based on the initial questions on the “Analyzing Your Sources” handout: What are different perspectives in the present-day controversy surrounding Confederate monuments in the United States? What are major sources of tension and disagreement in this controversy? What meanings do these monuments hold for different groups of people? What do different sides believe should (or should not) be commemorated about the past?

Encourage students to make connections to the scholar videos. Possible questions to pose include: What would the scholars in the videos we watched earlier say about how these different sides use history and/or memory in their arguments? What do different sides view as “worth remembering”? What about the past do they “forget” or “omit”? What is the “official memory” around these monuments? What are “alternative narratives”? What history has been “imagined”? How do different sides of the controversy “do history”?

Encourage students to make connections to the concept of power: What is the role of power in this controversy? Which perspectives represent the views of those who held power in the past? Which perspectives represent the views of those who hold power in society today? In what ways do different sides of the debate hold power to influence the course of events playing out today?

Invite students to share their own opinions: What do Confederate monuments symbolize to you? What do you believe should be done about Confederate monuments in the United States today?

Extra Challenges

1. Quotation Analysis

Read or post on the board the following quotations from President Trump’s remarks at a press conference on Tuesday, August 15, 2017:

“So, will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down—are we going to take down statues to George—how about Thomas Jefferson? … Now, are we going to take down his statue? So, you know what? It’s fine. You’re changing history. You’re changing culture.”

“So this week, it is Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”

Consider posing the following questions to discuss how these quotations relate to the work of the lesson:

  • How do President Trump’s remarks fit into the debate over Confederate monuments?
  • What do you think President Trump means when he says, “You’re changing history. You’re changing culture”? What is the vision of U.S. history and culture that President Trump wants to preserve?
  • When President Trump asks, “where does it stop?” what is the “it” he is referring to? What broader meanings does “it” hold, beyond the literal removal of statues? What does President Trump (and those who agree with him) want to “stop”?
  • What beliefs, fears, and agendas underlie President Trump’s words?

2. Essay

Write an essay in which you respond to President Trump’s claim that taking down the monuments is changing history and culture. Be sure to use and cite evidence to support your argument. You can draw from the videos you watched about historical memory, the media sources you read in class, or other reliable sources.

3. Design a Memorial

Draw a sketch of a memorial that commemorates some aspect of the Civil War. Keep in mind what you have learned about historical memory, the current debate, and how to avoid a “narrow and romanticized” understanding of the past. Label important aspects of your memorial and write a one-paragraph statement of purpose for your memorial.

4. Research Presentation

Are there monuments of the Civil War in your town or city? Visit one monument and take a photograph. Record a description of important details and text on the monument. Where is it located? Who or what is commemorated? Can you discover when and why the monument was installed? Are there debates about this monument? What issues have people raised? Use sources that are available to you at the monument site, online, or in your local library. Present your research to your classmates in a brief presentation.

Additional Resources

Choices Videos

How have the legacies of slavery affected the history of the United States? (Christy Clark-Pujara)

How is racial inequality rooted in the founding of the United States? (Françoise Hamlin)

Other Resources

Southern Poverty Law Center—”Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy”

Southern Poverty Law Center—Confederate Monument Map

The New York Times—“Confederate Monuments Are Coming Down Across the United States. Here’s a List”

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum—Voices on Antisemitism Podcast Series

Eric Foner Op-Ed in The New York Times—“Confederate Statues and ‘Our’ History”

Image Credits: Anthony Crider, CC BY 2.0.

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