Landscapes of Prison Memory

Plan: This is a take-home/in-class activity designed to get students to think about place and historical memory. In preparation for this activity, students are expected to have read the letters between Wash Nelson and Mollie Scollay as well as Wash’s memoir.

Using the “Places” tab as a starting point, students will research a geographic location that was important to either Wash or Mollie. As individual researchers or in small groups, students will seek to answer how the Civil War and Civil War prisoners are remembered at this location. For places that are not preserved, are there monuments, historical markers, street signs, or other indicators that there continues to be a local historical memory of the Civil War? For places that are preserved and interpreted, what layers of the historical memory are mentioned? Which ones are omitted? Is it possible to infer the reason behind an mentions and omissions?

Students will report back on the following issues, adapted from James Loewen’s “Ten Questions to Ask at a Historic Site” in Lies across America: What our Historic Sites Get Wrong (New York: The New Press, 1999), 459.

1. When was the place preserved, interpreted, or destroyed and what was the historical and cultural context of that time period? Would the interpretation or word choice be considered problematic today?

2. Where were specific groups responsible for the preservation or interpretation of the site? Is it possible to know, or at least infer, the motives and intended audience?

3. Did the preservation, interpretation, or destruction of the historic site involve local governments? State governments? The national government? Is the site privately or publicly owned? How does governmental affiliation affect funding and interpretation?

4. What (and whose) histories are told and not told at the historic site? How diverse–in terms of race, class, and gender–is the interpretive scope? Are voices and experiences left out of the interpretation and, if so, how might the inclusion of those voices change the meaning of the historic site?

5. How does the public–including individuals and organizations–use the space? Are there annual traditions and rituals associated with something important at this site?