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Campus & Community

A ‘Smashing’ Read

First Year Book Explores Past, Present and Future of Monuments

By Sala Levin ’10

"Smashing Statues" book

"Smashing Statues: The Rise and Fall of America's Public Monuments," by Erin L. Thompson, a professor of art crime, is this year's First Year Book. Available for free to all students, the book examines the past, present and future of monuments in American culture, and is intended to prompt discussions across campus.

Photo by Amina Lampkin

From Silent Sam at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to a statue with Confederate roots at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, controversial public art on college campuses and beyond has come under fire in recent years, sparking nationwide discussions about how we remember the past—and who gets remembered.

This year’s First Year Book selection, “Smashing Statues: The Rise and Fall of America’s Public Monuments,” aims to bring those conversations to the University of Maryland. The 2022 book, written by Erin L. Thompson, professor of art crime at New York City’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, examines why people build them, how we evaluate them and what we might do with them if and when they’re no longer meaningful—or that meaning has become offensive.

“We tend to think (monuments) are about the past, but really, they’re about the future: What do we want to keep remembering from the past in order to keep that thing in our lives?” said Thompson. “And in the last couple of decades, we’ve changed a lot about what we think life should look like in America—who should be rich, who should be in power, who should be in love with each other. So it’s no wonder that we’re starting to look at monuments, which are these big Post-it Notes to remind the public of what they should be aiming for in their lives.”

Each year since 1993, the First Year Book program selects a book—fiction or nonfiction—that is available for free for all students, faculty and staff. “We’re always looking for a book that raises questions and is good for discussion, that exposes students and the UMD community to an issue to talk about how we agree or disagree respectfully,” said Lisa Kiely, associate dean for undergraduate studies and director of the First Year Book program.

The First Year Book committee, comprising undergraduate students, faculty and staff, read eight to 10 books before choosing “Smashing Statues.” Criteria for selection include whether a book can be used in a variety of courses, whether it prompts a rich discussion, whether it can support outside-the-classroom programming and, simply, whether it’s an enjoyable read.

Kiely pointed out that the themes of “Smashing Statues” are relevant in numerous ways to the UMD community—from the 2016 renaming of the football stadium to the addition of Frederick Douglass Square on Hornbake Plaza to the two new residence halls honoring pioneering Maryland students.

Thompson will visit campus on Nov. 7 to talk about the book, and additional programming based on the book will take place over the course of the year.

Schools & Departments:

Office of Undergraduate Studies

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