University Writing Program, The George Washington University, Fall 2017
- Memorials, Museums, and Monuments: Writing the Past through Place and Space (UW 1020)
The National Museum of African American History and Culture just opened on the Mall – the culmination of more than one hundred years of advocacy for such an institution. But while the museum has enjoyed tremendous attention in its opening months, many other museums, memorials, and monuments already here in Washington have commemorated and narrated the American story, or stories, of race for generations. From the African American Civil War memorial to the National Museum of the American Indian, public spaces throughout the city depict the nation’s often tortured relationship with race. Visitors of such spaces generally consider them reliable vehicles for telling that history. But how historically reliable are such public history accounts? What sorts of pressures do these institutions face in relating their interpretations? And, perhaps most importantly for a writing course, are there explicit rhetorical features that distinguish academic history and argument from popular ones found in museums, memorials, and monuments? In this class, students will analyze these carefully crafted, sometimes controversial places and spaces around Washington and how they narrate American history, particularly its racial history – including these sites’ physical locations, visual symbolism, and written interpretations. In the process, students will be asked to write your own argument-driven narratives, sharpening not just their ability to convey their thoughts on paper but also bolstering an array of academic skills, such as critical reading, argument development, substantive revision, and primary source analysis.