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Mapping Memorials: Research and Public Advocacy on Campus

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Chavez statue on UT Austin campus
Image Credit: 

Cesar Chavez statue on the University of Texas campus.

Brief Assignment Overview: 

Through this assignment, students learn to close-read (critique) monuments on campus and consider the rhetorical nature of memory.

Type of Assignment: 
Assignment Length: 
Pedagogical Goals - Writing: 
Pedagogical Goals - Digital Literacy: 
Additional Pedagogical Goals: 
This assignment promotes student research by having them look into what monuments and memorials are on campus, learning why those objects exist along with their histories, and considering arguments and controversies concerning those monuments and memorials that already exist. Through this assignment, students also practice advocacy by making a “two-fold” argument (dissoi logoi) concerning whether or not (and why) a monument or memorial should exist. Moreover, this argument is made in a public forum, which may invite response from persons outside the university. Finally, this assignment helps familiarize students with two digital programs, Google Earth and Panoramio, programs that students can use again in the future for other courses, projects, professional applications, and personal enjoyment.
Required Materials: 

A digital camera; access to a computer as well as the programs Google Earth and Panoramio.

Timeline for Optimal Use: 
Full Assignment Description: 

In this assignment, students learn to digitally map and critique on-campus monuments and memorials. Unsurprisingly, then, students are first asked to find an interesting monument or memorial on UT-Austin’s campus. After finding a monument or memorial (e.g., the Caesar Chavez or Barbara Jordan statue), students must take a photo of that statue and load it into the on-line program Panoramio. Once logged into Panoramio, students must post the photo to Google Earth with a comment/critique that explains a.) what the monument or memorial is about, i.e., its history and so on, b.) a very brief argument concerning why the monument is appropriate and should remain in UT’s public memory, and c.) a very brief counter-argument concerning why the monument is inappropriate and should be forgotten. After the photos are approved by Panoramio’s site administrators, anyone can visit UT’s campus in Google Earth and learn more about its monuments and memorials, as well as read students’ critical reflections upon those monuments and memorials. One can also have students tour the campus on-line later in the semester, reading each others’ entries and posting responses.

Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

Before having students do the assignment, I highly recommend that the instructor first do the assignment him- or herself. This way, the instructor can become familiar with the computer programs as well as any potential hang-ups that may occur. Moreover, by doing the assignment ahead of time, the instructor will have a nice example to show their students. Once again, keep in mind that Panoramio photos require approval from the site administrator.

Instructions For Students: 

RHE 309K: Rhetoric, Memory, and Forgetting

Mapping and Critiquing UT-Austin Monuments

In this assignment, you’ll find an interesting monument or memorial on UT-Austin’s campus to photograph, research, and critique—offering both an argument for the monument’s existence as well as one against its existence. You’ll then post your findings to the web.

To begin, you’ll need to find an object on campus to work with. It can be a statue, a memorial, a monument, an artwork, and so on; all that I ask is that its existence have something to do with remembering (or forgetting). Let’s say you pick the Caesar Chavez statue near the Student Union. First, you’ll want to take a picture of statue with a digital camera so that you can load the photo onto the internet. If you don’t have a camera, let me know and I can pair you up with someone who does (or we can use my camera). Next, you’ll want to do a little research on the statue: Why is it near the Union? Who built it? Who paid for it? What is its significance? And so on. After reading about the statue, you’ll then want to envision two arguments, one for why it should remain on campus and one for why it should be removed.

At this point, you’ll create a Word file and write three concise, but dense, paragraphs explaining: 1.) what the statue is all about, 2.) an argument “for” it, and 3.) an argument “against” it. Then, on the appropriate day, you’ll bring this write-up plus your photo to class—though you’ll only turn in the write-up.

In class, I’ll show you how to use the programs Google Earth and Panoramio. We’ll load both your photo and write-up into Panoramio, and after they’re approved by the site administrator, everyone who goes to UT-Austin’s campus on Google Earth will be able to see what you’ve come up with. Thus, you’ll not only educate yourself through the course of the assignment, but you’ll also educate people visiting the Google Earth website! Who knows, what you write may even elicit a response from someone outside the university, but it’s up to you whether or not to keep the conversation going.

Finally, later in the semester after all your photos are approved by site administrators, we’ll take a digital tour of UT-Austin’s monuments and memorials in class. That way, everyone can learn about the different monuments and memorials that people researched, as well as comment upon what you’ve written in your critique.

Points: This assignment will count for as much as a research summary (i.e., four pts). Good luck! And please let me know if you’ve got any questions! 

P.S., If you’d like to do something non-traditional for this assignment, please ask. For example, you might take a picture of the bullet-holes left by the 1966 tower shootings, offering an argument both for and against replacing the stones scarred by the event. If you’ve got something like this in mind, just ask!

Evaluation Suggestions: 

For this project, I gave students credit equivalent to a short writing assignment. They were evaluated on: a.) whether they successfully posted their photo and comments, b.) whether they provided ample background on their monument or memorial, and c.) whether they respectfully and responsibly advocated in writing for at least two positions concerning the monument’s or memorial’s continued existence (or non-existence).

Note: For evaluative purposes, it’s a good idea to have students submit their write-ups to the instructor, along with posting them on-line. And this assignment can easily be preceded by a short peer review, which promotes evaluation of student work by the students themselves.

Notes on Reception, Execution, etc.: 

All in all, students were excited about this assignment, and found using the digital technology fairly easy. They enjoyed taking photos as well as investigating on-campus “artifacts” that had previously eluded their attention. Many were surprised by what they discovered in their research, and felt strongly about relating their views on-line. Students also expressly mentioned looking forward to the digital campus tour later in the semester, not only in order to see what monuments and memorials their colleagues had highlighted, but also their colleagues’ critical evaluation of these monuments and memorials.

Course Description: 

Rhetoric, Memory, and Forgetting

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