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The Role of Public Parks in Telling the Nation's Story

Daniel Dustin, Larry Beck, Brett Wright, Gene Lamke, James Murphy, Cary McDonald


In this paper, we discuss the role of public parks in telling the nation’s story via statues, memorials, and monuments. We ground our discussion in affect theory, which addresses the affective responses statues, memorials, and monuments elicit in visitors. Of particular note is affective dissonance, which suggests that a statue, memorial, or monument may evoke a variety of conflicting affective responses. The way in which visitors reconcile these conflicting affective responses shapes their public memory of significant events in our nation’s history. As more is learned about the checkered past of individuals venerated in statues, memorials, and monuments, how should public park administrators respond? We provide several examples of statues, memorials, and monuments that are controversial in nature, and discuss how public park administrators have responded to the challenge of telling the nation’s story through the reinterpretation of events. We also consider the complexity of the management implications, focusing in particular on who should be driving the decisions made. We then discuss the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, as a good object lesson in how to deal with the affective dissonance involved in recasting public spaces. In so doing, we underscore the importance of frame theory in educating visitors about the preservation, modification, or removal of existing statues, memorials, or monuments.

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Affect theory; frame theory; memorials; monuments; public memory; statues

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