Erin L. Thompson, "Smashing Statues: The Rise and Fall of America's Public Monuments" (Norton, 2022)


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In the United States, the national debate over public monuments often frames the removal of statutes as a revision of history. But Dr. Thompson suggests that we need to interrogate both the creation and removal of monuments to understand the essential role they play in creating national narratives and determining who is seen as an American. Using a set of remarkable case studies, Dr. Thompson demonstrates the complex ways in which these statutes were suggested, contested, funded, physically created, and used symbolically by future groups. Smashing Statues: The Rise and Fall of America's Public Monuments (Norton, 2022) aims to create a toolkit to interrogate how Americans represent what they have built and what they need to rebuild in the American public landscape – and the nation as a whole.

Erin L. Thompson is an associate professor of art crime at John Jay College, City University of New York. She is an expert in the deliberate destruction of art, analyzing the ways in which this destruction has sometimes harmed and sometimes benefited communities. Her first book, Possession: The Curious History of Private Collectors (Yale University Press, 2016) was named an NPR Best Book of 2016 and her impressive public facing scholarship includes the New York Times, Washington Post, Time, CNN, NPR, BBC, Freakonomics and Smithsonian Magazine.

In the podcast, Dr. Thompson mentions her article, “Ghosting the Confederacy” and references the Confederate Sailors and Soldiers Monument in Birmingham, AL. Dr. Liebell highlights Howard University’s grant to digitize and archive Black newspapers required for research across disciplines.

Susan Liebell is Dirk Warren '50 Professor of Political Science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

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