Memorials – What do they mean?


I have not taught this lesson yet, but I think it could be an appropriate warm-up activity for the Vietnam War, the Abolition Movement, or really any unit about a war, social movement, or several prominent individuals (the presidents, space travel, etc).  I want to get students thinking about how/why we remember people and how our actions in the modern world can affect how people are remembered.

Pairs of students can choose one of a small group of photographs of two or three famous memorials.  (You might also give each pair one in particular, if you are not worried about anyone getting stuck or frustrated by lack of choice.)  Students will then answer the following questions:

1) What do I see in this picture?

2) What person/event might this be commemorating?  What information do I get from this picture about that person/event?

3) What emotions would a person feel if they went to this place?

4) What is important about this person/event?

Here are some photos I have taken of famous memorials.  Older students or students with more knowledge of history might be given the more obscure ones.  Younger students or students with less knowledge of US/world history might be given the more obvious or narrative photos.  You also might decide whether you want to label the photos to give students a clue, or leave them without explanation and allow them to make guesses themselves.

(Holocaust Memorial, Berlin)

(Memorial to the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry who fought in the Civil War)

(Irish Potato Famine Memorial, Boston)

(John Hancock Memorial, Boston)

(Vietnam War Nurse Memorial, Washington, D.C.)

(Inside of Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.)


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3 Responses to “Memorials – What do they mean?”

  1. Becca Says:

    I could use this in class – the rhetoric of memorials. I might do something like this over the summer, when I get the chance to experiment with lesson plans.

    I’m wondering what other people see in the Holocaust memorial. I’ve been there, and I’m not entirely sure what it’s supposed to mean, or represent. There’s one in the Jewish museum that really struck me, though … I think I’ve got pictures of that one … The English title is “Fallen Leaves.”

  2. Becca Says:

    Hey, do you have more memorials that you use and/or larger photos? I am definitely going to use this with my summer class. :-)

    Or, if you have any suggestions on other memorials … I’d like at least 1o.

    • Whitney Nielsen Says:

      Sure, I’ll send you my originals. Also, for other memorials… the Vietnam Memorial in DC is always a good one, and the Holocaust Memorial in Boston is interesting. They’re both not too obvious. A memorial to something more concrete, such as Lord Nelson in Trafalgar Square or the Civil War memorial in front of the courthouse in Traverse City, MI might be nice. Let me know which ones you use and how it goes!

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