Dr. Reich examines monuments and historical consciousness

Spotlight on SOE faculty research

Headshot of Dr. Gabriel Reich of the VCU School of Education.
Dr. Gabriel Reich

The amount of knowledge being generated by VCU School of Education faculty in published research goes beyond merely enhancing the school’s reputation – it is helping to shape the future of education itself. One recent example of this is the article below, authored by Dr. Gabriel Reich, which looks at Confederate monuments and historical consciousness.

Summary

Richmond, Virginia, as the former capital of the Confederacy, has until recently been the location of multiple monuments to Confederate generals prominently displayed on one of Richmond’s most prestigious avenues. Gabriel Reich, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning, studied the role of these monuments on high school students’ historical consciousness. This term describes how people use history in everyday life to orient themselves with regard to identity and ethics and to inform their beliefs about the likelihood of future events.

Ten 10th-grade students, eight of whom were African Americans, provided letters written to the mayor of Richmond, Levar Stoney, about what they believed should be done with the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue. These letters were part of an English assignment where the goal was for students to learn that the Confederate monuments create a narrative, and that the addition of a statue of a prominent African American from Richmond, Arthur Ashe, was meant to disrupt that narrative.

The results of the study were mixed. Although nine of the 10 students believed the Confederate statues should remain standing on Monument Avenue, one student wanted the Ashe statue to remain on Monument Avenue to erode the emotional and psychological power of the Confederate monuments. A couple of the other students called for more monuments of marginalized Richmonders that represented different people and times in other neighborhoods, so visitors to the area could experience the history through a tour of the city.

Through their answers, the students demonstrated critical and exemplary historical consciousness that recognized racism as a key feature of American social structure, especially in regard to Confederate statues.

Citation

Reich, G.A. (2020). Monumental refraction: Monuments, identity, and historical consciousness. Historical Encounters, 7(1). http://hej.hermes-history.net/index.php/HEJ/article/view/145