"Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina" has its origins in the confluence of developments in digital technology and in historical scholarship. During the past twenty years, it has become possible to make a vast array of historical material accessible in interactive formats. As a result, anyone with a computer and a question about the past can engage in research in materials that previously were accessible mainly to those who had the time, money, and training to devote to research. Still unresolved is how specialists can facilitate and inform the research of diverse users who are interested in historical questions. One solution is a site like "Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina," which makes accessible a huge body of material–correspondence, postcards, photographs, pamphlets, newspaper articles, interactive maps, oral histories–and organizes it around a common theme, namely commemoration. The intent of this site is to enable anyone interested in why a monument in North Carolina exists where it does or honors what it does can dig deeply in historical sources to find the answer.
This site also reflects our interest in historical memory. During the past three decades, scholars in both the social sciences and humanities have been interested in how various communities (ranging from, for example, fraternal organizations to ethnic groups and nations) use the past to define themselves. The foundational assumption of the concept of historical memory is that each group has its own version of the past with which it separates itself from others. Consequently, scholars have been interested in what forms these versions of the past take (e.g., speeches, statues, music) and who expresses them and when they do so. Recent scholarship on historical memory uses sophisticated theory and as a result is often inaccessible to non-specialists. One aim of this site is to translate current scholarship on historical memory into a form that is useful, relevant, and interesting to users who may never have occasion to delve into the work of professional scholars. By making use of the landscapes in which we live, which are often dense with commemorative sites, this collection we hope, illustrates in a tangible fashion otherwise seemingly abstract ideas about historical memory.
"Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina" is also an expression of our commitment to democratic civic culture. We live in landscapes that we have inherited. We need to know how our landscapes came into being so that we can make informed choices about how to alter or preserve them. It is easy to assume that the state’s landscapes have always been the way they are. This site is a reminder that we move through a commemorative landscape shaped by the work, money, arguments, and power of those who came before us. It is our turn to decide what landscapes we leave for the next generation.
"Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina" is an ongoing project. We began by surveying the commemorative sites in twenty five Piedmont counties, in an arc from Rowan to Cumberland counties. In the future we will incorporate the commemorative landscapes in the remaining counties into the digital archive. Please return to the site often and watch it as it grows. Let us know if there are commemorative sites that we have missed or that you would like us to add.