This unit on public memorials was designed by Matt Grimes, who teaches 9th grade US History 1 at Charlestown High School, an open enrollment school. Matt designed the unit and project in order to give students opportunities to consider contemporary issues with a historical lens. Specifically, Matt describes how the project “asks students to apply historical context about slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction to contemporary memorials of these events.” The assignment could be adapted to other US History 1 classes, and the unit consists of three sections: a set of lessons on memories of slavery, another on the memorial project itself, and a final set of lessons on the presentation of the students’ research. Students also attended a panel discussion about public memorials for the general public in January 2019, connecting the work they were doing in class with broader societal conversations about the very visible legacy of white supremacy and slavery in Boston.
This unit is in line with the lens of ethnic studies, because it requires the class to analyze how white supremacy has developed and continues in the modern day, specifically in relation to popular narratives of history. Moreover, Matt sees the assignment as a way for students to share their own perspectives on how they believe stories about American history should be told. In future iterations of the unit, Matt hopes to provide opportunities for more rigorous analysis by having student students look more closely at the rationales of the creators of various historical monuments, to gather more evidence when making claims about the intent of the monuments and their historical validity. He also credits the collaborative nature of creating this unit with its success. Particularly, he worked with Elis Kanner and Allison Rigney to think through this unit and assignment.