DipLawMatic Dialogues: Bloggers Needed for Winter and Spring Posts

By Alyson DrakeSlawFCILCareersWordle1

DipLawMatic Dialogues has had a great fall, with wonderful new contributions and series on everything from perspectives from a new FCIL librarian to informative recaps from IALL 2017.  Due to this excellent content, 2017 readership numbers surpassed the previous record this past week to make this our most-read year in the blog’s history!  This isn’t possible without a fantastic line up of bloggers, so I hope many of you will consider volunteering to do a new series or a one-off post for us in 2018!

We’re open to any and all ideas for both one-time posts or ongoing series that could be written on a monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly basis.

A few types of posts we’re looking for:

  1. One-time (or more regular) contributions to our Teaching FCIL Research Series.  These posts are by far our most-read, showing that there’s a real interest in hearing about what others are doing in their FCIL Research courses.  We have a great blogger every other month for this series, but are looking for people to fill in the other months.  Is there one topic that you really like teaching?  Are you doing a unique project or assignment in your classes?  Are you using technology in your FCIL classes?  We want to hear about it!
  2. From the FCIL Reference Desk:  Do you get interesting FCIL research questions from faculty, students, attorneys, etc.?   We’d love to hear how you answered them, what resources were helpful in findin the answers, etc.  Ideally, this would be a monthly feature, but could also be shared between two or more bloggers.
  3. We’d love to include content from the viewpoint of a firm, government, or nonprofit librarian on their day-to-day work as an FCIL librarian.
  4. Any other ideas you might have.  Our series on acquiring foreign language skills was an idea Katherine Orth had and emailed us about, and it’s been a fabulous addition to the blog.

We’re also looking for single posts in the following areas:

  1. Book Reviews:  We can help identify books to be reviewed and secure review copies for you if you’re interested in this.
  2. Current Events:  Julienne Grant did a fantastic post on the crisis in Catalonia, and it was a hit!  We’d love to include more posts on current events in the FCIL arena.
  3. Issues Posts:  Carlos Pagan’s wonderful post on the emergence of international LGBT rights was also a favorite this fall.  We’d love to include short, scholarly pieces on a specific issue of interest to you.
  4. Anything else that you are interested in writing about for us.  We’ve already been approached with a few terrific ideas for the spring semester that I can’t wait for you all to read!

To my mind, the best thing about the law librarianship community is our willingness to share ideas and writing for DipLawMatic Dialogues is a fantastic way to do this.  Email Alyson Drake at alyson.drake@ttu.edu by December 1st with your ideas (or at anytime if you come up with an idea–we can always add to the schedule).

IALL 2017 Recap: Pre-Conference Workshop: Well, Isn’t That Special? A How-To Workshop on Creating and Using Archives and Special Collections in a Legal Research Context

By John Bamgbose


Workshop attendees pay rapt attention to the presentations.

The 36th annual course on International Law and Legal Information has come and gone. However, one of the things that will remain green in the hearts of the participants is the pre-conference workshop, which will remain in the annals of history of the association as the first of its kind in the 36 years of the workshop. On an unusually warm October afternoon, participants gathered from different parts of the world. The workshop provided the opportunity for some first timers to begin their familiarization and networking before the official opening ceremony which was to later take place in the evening. The pre-conference workshop’s theme was “Well, Isn’t That Special? A How-to Workshop on Creating and Using Archives and Special Collections in a Legal Research Context.”

Vanessa King, Assistant Law Librarian for Special Collections, and Jason LeMay, Assistant Law Librarian for Cataloging and Metadata, both of Emory University’s Hugh F. MacMillan Law Library, opened the floor by examining the topic entitled, “Special Collections: What Are They and How Do We Build Them?”


Vanessa King, Assistant Law Librarian for Special Collections at Emory University, presents at IALL 2017’s pre-conference workshop.


Jason LeMay, Assistant Law Librarian for Cataloging and Metadata, shows off some of Emory University’s rare collections.

The session provided a list of conservative and preservative measures that should be put in place to ensure that rare collections acquired in the law library are better preserved.  Libraries must consider the temperature and humidity level of the storage area.  Other germane issues include security concerns, the environmental condition, shelving, and storage demands.  After the presentation, attendees were able to view some of the rare collections, under the guidance of Mr. LeMay.  The resources ranged from paper-based collections of different sizes and ages.  The session further enumerated factors that should be considered before starting up special collections.

The second session of the workshop, entitled “Making Special Collections Accessible to Users: Cataloging and Finding Aids,” took another interesting dimension by taking a cursory look at the technical activities that would guarantee proper arrangement of collections in a manner that library patrons could easily access the rare collections.  The session was given by Clayton McGahee, Archives Manager at Emory University Libraries, and Marjorie Crawford, Head of Technical Services and Automated Services, Rutgers Law Library.


Marjorie Crawford, Head of Technical Services and Automated Services, Rutgers Law Library, speaks during her presentation on making special collections accessible to users.

Mr. McGahee’s presentation began with an overview of the finding aids available at Emory University.  He noted that, while the transition to an electronic system is important in the knowledge economy, it is essential to set up standards.  Ms. Crawford concluded the presentation with some nuggets to keep in mind when cataloging rare books and the available tools that can be leveraged when cataloging.

In the third session, “Using Archives and Special Collections in Your Classroom,” Professor Donna Troka, Associate Director of Teaching and Pedagogy at Emory’s Center for Faculty Development and Excellence, and Gabrielle Dudley, the Instruction Archivist and QEP Librarian at Emory’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, chronicled their collaborative experience on a project called “Resisting Racism: From Civil Rights to #BlackLivesMatter.”  Their presentation was a case study of best practice for collaborative engagement between the library and the faculty.  Professor Troka describes how the collaboration came to be and then narrated the step-by-step process on how the project worked.  Students structured their findings on how demographics, such as gender, sexuality, and race have functioned in anti-racist movements across history.  The course gave rise to a physical exhibition in 2016 and a digital exhibit in fall 2016.


Professor Donna Troka, Associate Director of Teaching and Pedagogy, and Gabrielle Dudley, Instruction Archivist, Emory University, a moment before their presentation.

Acknowledgements:  This recap was made possible due to the efforts of:
  1. Cornell Law Library, which generously provided me with conference participation support as part of the Bitner Research Fellowship package;
  2. Monica, whose camera was used to capture the pictures; and
  3. An IALL board member who granted me her pre-conference slot, which enabled me to attend the workshop.

IALL 2017 Recap: Keynote Address

By Taryn Marks

The last day of the 2017 IALL Annual Course opened with the Keynote Address, given by Dr. Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, a highly-regarded academic who serves as the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Emory School of Law, an Associated Professor at Emory College of Arts and Sciences, and as Senior Fellow at Emory’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion.


Dr. Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im giving his talk on the dialectic of civil and human rights at IALL 2017. Photo courtesy of Avery Le, October 25, 2017.

Dr. An-Na’im’s talk, entitled “Dialectic of Civil Rights and Human Rights in International Law and Domestic Law and Policy of the USA: Perspectives of an African American Muslim Speaker” (say that three times fast!), began by challenging the United States’ policies and practices on human and civil rights. Using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its proclamation that human rights should be “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations” as a foundation for his speech, Dr. An-Na’im argued that the United States faces a fundamental crisis in how it currently deals with human and civil rights.

Human rights and civil rights often interact and the full enforcement of both sets of rights can result in synergies—but, Dr. An-Na’im said, in ways that are not immediately obvious. Perhaps because of this distinction, the United States often differentiates civil rights and human rights, to the detriment of human rights. Civil rights in the U.S. offer protection to citizens and lawful residents only, at times not even accomplishing that. Dr. An-Na’im pointed to racial discrimination in the United States as an example of the failure of civil rights within the country, condemning the U.S. in no uncertain terms.

The U.S. often points to the strong protection granted to civil rights in the country as evidence of its success in human rights. Dr. An-Na’im not only disagreed with that statement, but says that the two are part of a two-way street. Human rights should apply to “all human beings by virtue of their humanity and without requirement of membership of any group or class.” Unfortunately, Dr. An-Na’im argued, the U.S. fails to apply human rights within its own borders, despite the propaganda that it promotes internationally regarding human rights. This can be seen not only through the United States’ dismal record on civil rights, but also in the United States’ reluctance to sign on to international treaties related to human rights. As one of many examples, Dr. An-Na’im pointed to the fact that the U.S. has not signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child.


Dr. An-Na’im answers questions after his talk. Photo courtesy of Avery Le, October 25, 2017.

Ultimately, a country should have both strong civil rights and human rights. Civil rights and human rights should not be viewed as mutually exclusive, in that the success of one should not automatically mean the success of the other. In fact, Dr. An-Na’im said, strong protection of both civil rights and human rights creates exceptional synergies.

This recap touches only the surface of the many issues, controversies, and ideas that Dr. An-Na’im brought up in his keynote address. I strongly encourage everyone, even those who attended the conference, to watch his address in order to get the full breadth and depth of his arguments.

Teaching Foreign Customary Law: Tips and Tricks

By Susan Gualtier

Researching foreign customary law can be a difficult process, so it is no surprise that many FCIL librarians struggle with how to teach this topic to law students.  Nonetheless, in my experience, it is a topic that students enjoy and that most have not previously encountered.  I was fortunate enough to experience the customary law research process as a student in the Georgetown University Law Center’s Women’s Human Rights Clinic in 2002, which included a fact-finding mission to Tanzania funded by a USAID grant.  My participation in the clinic was a life-changing experience that I was happy to revisit when I entered the law library profession in 2011.  However, teaching customary law in a classroom setting, without the opportunity to work with and speak to people who are subject to these laws, presents some challenges.  Having now taught this topic at both Louisiana State University, as part of my own FCIL research course, and at the University of Pennsylvania, as a guest lecturer, I offer the following thoughts on how to approach teaching this difficult topic.

  1. It is difficult for students to visualize customary law systems. Because most students will not have traveled to countries with customary law systems, and almost certainly will not have done legal work there even if they have visited, it can be difficult for them to visualize the customary law process, or even the people to whom customary law applies.  The wide variety of countries and regions practicing customary law, as well as the variability of customary law itself and of those who apply and enforce it, can also make it difficult to imagine and to explain.  I believe that it is important not to make customary law sound too “primitive” or to stereotype those to whom it applies.  I have found that photos (of courthouses, villages, or local attorneys, for example) can help illustrate the larger context in which customary law is applied.  If the course schedule provides enough time, a well-places documentary like Invoking Justice can help students to visualize customary and other unfamiliar legal systems.
  2. Some students will struggle to recognize customary law as a legitimate legal system. While the topic of customary law has generally been well-received by my students, I can remember two or three who struggled to accept that customary law is a fully formed type of legal system on par with common law, civil law, and religious law systems.  I believe that this stems from either the tendency to view customary law as primitive or outdated, or the objection to customary laws as necessarily discriminatory.  Both can be discussed in the classroom while at the same time emphasizing customary law’s depth and complexity as a legal system.  While customary laws can indeed be discriminatory, I have found that a thoughtful discussion of how they can be discriminatory and of why specific laws developed the way they did refocuses the students’ attention on the complexity of customary law systems and of the customary law research process.  It also helps to point out the history of customary law in Europe and how it affected and grew into the common law and the earliest civil codes.
  3. It helps to offer a case study. When I taught customary law at LSU, I had the luxury of giving the topic an entire class session, which allowed for a more in-depth discussion of customary law in practice in addition to an overview of the research process and resources.  As background reading, I asked my students to read a law review article, Tamar Erez, Inheritance Law in Tanzania: The Impoverishment of Widows and Daughters, 7 J. Gender & L. 599 (2006), describing the work of my women’s human rights clinic at Georgetown.  Articles offering case studies on customary law research are in abundance in databases like HeinOnline.  Though I have in the past assigned an article relating directly to my own experience, I did so because I could speak to it with first-hand knowledge.  More recent articles, and articles on a variety of different countries and regions, are certainly available.  Even without class time to discuss a case study in detail, offering one as background reading can help the students to approach the lecture with the beginning of an understanding of how customary law is practiced in real life.  As an alternative, a case study can be offered as suggested reading for any students who find the topic of customary law interesting or who wish to explore it in their final projects or in their writing seminars or clinics.

    GoT Meme

  4. It can help to include a pop culture reference. I like to use the Dothraki in Game of Thrones.  While we do not see a tremendous amount of their legal system in the books, and even less in the tv series, we do repeatedly hear reference to rules and laws of Dothraki life, followed by characters stating that “it is known.”  A simple meme has been enough to offer a visual for those of my students who have read the books or watched the show.
  5. The students will have to use their imaginations. Realistically, most research students will never encounter customary law in their doctrinal classes or in practice.  This does not mean that it is not worth teaching.  However, some allowance will need to be made for the fact that they are not going to have the experience of interviewing people about how the law is applied on the ground.  Nonetheless, I try not to limit my research problems or examples to the narrow topics that they might encounter as practitioners here in the United States, or that they can research in their entirely using secondary sources.  Asking them to imagine the questions they would ask or the obstacles that they anticipate in the research process can be as instructive as having them locate concrete sources.
  6. A solid in-class or take-home assignment can make or break the class. A good research assignment in customary law will encourage the students to imagine on-the-ground research, as well as to find useful sources from their own location, which helps them to see that customary law topics are approachable and able to be researched.  I generally revert to a human rights question, because I have the most experience there, and because it is generally interesting to most of my students.  For my first customary law lecture at Penn, I used the following problem as a post-class assignment, which combined elements of both customary and Islamic law:

Imagine that you are part of a small group of human rights attorneys and are just beginning a project involving intestate succession in Kenya.  Your project will focus primarily on the inheritance rights of women and of children deemed to be “illegitimate.”  You will eventually be traveling to Kenya on a grant-funded fact-finding mission, but for now, you must gather as much information as possible on the country’s legal system, the laws in force, and the application and enforcement of those laws.

Create a research plan that will allow you to begin drafting a report on which to base your fact-finding mission.  Which sources will you consult?  Which issues do you think will need to be fleshed out through interviews or other research when you arrive in Kenya?

If you have time, look at some of the websites that we have discussed and try to find some preliminary information on both the religious and customary laws in Kenya and how they treat questions of inheritance.  Identify, if possible, any issues that you think may arise from Kenya’s mixed legal system.

This problem allowed the students to explore all of the potential sources that I had covered in class, as well as to imagine real-life factors that might complicate the laws’ application, identify possible research difficulties, and begin brainstorming questions for interviews or for additional research based on what they found during their preliminary searches.  When putting together research problems, I often start with the U.S. State Department’s Human Rights Reports, which frequently identify human rights issues arising out of customary law.  I then build my problem from there to incorporate other resources, as well as any complicating real-life factors or relevant statutes or international issues, if I am going to include them in the problem.

  1. Much of your teaching can take place while giving feedback. The feedback phase is a chance to see what the students have absorbed and the sources to which they have gravitated, and to offer additional insight into the complex area of customary law, particularly when it comes to possible next steps beyond secondary source and internet research.  When I assigned the above research problem, I let the students know that it was complicated and asked them not to spend more than approximately one hour on it.  The students all did very well, and all identified a majority of the sources that I expected them to find.  However, the feedback phase was a valuable opportunity not only to highlight the easy-to-find sources that we covered in class, but to talk about some sources that were more difficult to find.  I also discussed how these sources could help the researcher to identify potential problems with application, enforcement, and choice of law, and to anticipate questions that would need to be explored during future stages of the research process.  (For a copy of my written feedback on this assignment, please feel free to contact me directly.)

Customary law may be a difficult topic to approach as a research instructor, but I believe that students enjoy it and that it should be included in any class that purports to cover foreign legal research.  I have had a surprising number of students choose customary law topics for their final projects in my research courses, always with great success.  I hope that this post will build upon recent AALL programming and existing guides on customary law research, and help my colleagues to approach this topic not only as researchers, but as instructors, as well.

If you are interested in customary law, please join the Customary and Religious Law Interest Group (CARLIG) on My Communities.  We look forward to hearing your thoughts and questions!

IALL 2017 Recap: Information Literacy in a False/Fake News World

By Edward T. Hart

Information Literacy in a False/Fake News World was the next to last program of IALL’s 2017 annual course.  It featured a panel of three law library directors: Carol Watson, Director, Alexander Campbell King Law Library at the University of Georgia School of Law; Kristina L. Niedringhaus, Associate Dean for Library and Information Services and Associate Professor of Law, Georgia State University College of Law; and Caroline Osborne, Assistant Dean of Legal Information Services and Professor of Legal Research, Washington & Less School of Law.  ‘Fake news’ is being tossed around like grenades, especially by those unhappy with coverage by mainline media, to blow-up the credibility of the traditional press.  There are also incidents of social media being used to spread deliberate untruths to undermine individuals and movements. This presentation was well timed to provide historical context to false/fake news, why we should care about false/fake news, and how to address false/fake news in our information literacy instruction.


Carol Watson presents at the Information Literacy in a False/Fake News World panel at IALL 2017.  Photo courtesy of Avery Le, October 2017.

Ms. Watson addressed the history of “fake news” and its predecessor, “false news.”  First, to make sure we have a common starting point, she offered the definition that false/fake news is information that is a deliberately misleading attempt to publish non-true facts. But not all false/fake news is bad.  Propaganda, satire, and hoaxes are all examples of false/fake news which are published for purposes to persuade, educate, and entertain for positive reasons. Recorded incidents of false/fake news go back a millennium.  During the Octavian-Antony conflicts in ancient Rome, Octavian distributed coins with fake slogans accusing Antony of being anti-Roman by planning to move the empire’s capital to Egypt. Since the printing press, false/fake news spreads even faster.  Benjamin Franklin created his own fake news while in Paris during the American Revolution to stir up the French sympathy by printing fake newspapers that looked like Boston newspapers but with headlines he created about British allying with Indians to attack Americans.  Watson pointed to the 2016 Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year, “post-truth,” as a sign we have entered a new stage in the information age.

Prof. Niedringhaus addressed the question why does false/fake news matter?  Everyone


Kristina Niedringhaus speaks at the Information Literacy in a False/Fake News World panel at IALL 2017. Photo courtesy of Avery Le, October 2017.

knows what it is and will treat it with disdain.  But do they?  She points to three case studies where false/fake news influenced popular thinking of many, well-educated individuals.  They are the anti-vaccination movement, climate change denial, and fear of ethnic violence in South Sudan.  Looking at just one of these, the anti-vaccination movement is based on the alleged connection of vaccines as a cause of autism. The claim was made in a 1998 article published in the highly respectable British medical journal Lancet, but the data behind the article could never be replicated by other researchers.  The original author would later lose his medical license for his not completely truthful study. The article was retracted by the journal with the message that there was no scientific evidence to support the connection of vaccines to autism.  But there are many people who still point to the article to support their belief and their steps not to get their children vaccinated.


Caroline Osborne closes off the panel on Information Literacy in a False/Fake News World at IALL 2017.  Photo courtesy of Avery Le, October 2017.

Prof. Osborne brought the panel back to the here and now with advice on how law librarians develop information literacy by teaching their students critical analysis of the news.  One easy step is to teach that we should not depend upon feeds from our social media as our only source of news.  If you have the least question about the truth behind a news piece, track it back to its source and make the analysis whether the source is one you can trust, but does not merely confirm your own bias.  Another check is whether the news is being carried by a variety of reliable sources.  Osborne points out that ‘facts’ are a slippery slope in legal information literacy.  While your typical dictionary, such as the current New Oxford American Dictionary, has only one entry for the word “fact,” the latest edition of Black’s Law Dictionary has the one entry with 55 sub-entries including one for “fabricated fact.”

The program was well worth the wait!  While I have heard other programs about fake news given by journalists, editors, and publishers, this panel was the first I have heard made up of law librarians. Watson, Niedringhaus, and Osborne tied together the what, why, and how of fake news from the point of view of a legal information professional. Most importantly, they provided guidance how we should take on false/fake news in our own work.  Fingers crossed, they will repeat this presentation to additional audiences.

IALL 2017 Recap: Profit-Seeking Courts and the Criminalization of Poverty

By Beth Parker


Sara Totonchi, Executive Director at the Southern Center for Human Rights, gives her talk at IALL 2017. Photo courtesy of Avery Le, October 23, 2017.

On Monday, October 23, 2017, Sara Totonchi, the Executive Director at the Southern Center for Human Rights, presented her talk, entitled Profit -Seeking Courts and the Criminalization of Poverty.

Ms. Totonchi began her presentation with a discussion of a heartbreaking but all too common incident. A grandmother from a small town in Georgia received a ticket for driving while unlicensed.  She plead guilty to the ticket and was fined by the court. Unable to pay the fine, the court placed her on probation with a private probation company. The company added fees for supervision, had her report to a probation officer, and required submitting to drug testing. During one visit the grandmother told her probation officer that she could not make the $140 payment and asked for an extension. She was told that she had until the end of the day to make the payment or a warrant would be issued for her arrest and she would be jailed. The grandmother sought help from family members so that she would not be arrested. Ms. Tontochi’s presentation highlighted that we have created a culture in the justice system where it is acceptable to make senior citizens submit to drug testing and jail time for nonpayment of a fine that they cannot afford to pay.

The traffic courts in Georgia routinely assess exorbitant fines, fees, surcharges, and costs during sentencing. These fines and fees fund various things, such as police officers’ retirements, clerks’ retirements, and jail law library funds. In addition, defendants are often required to pay supervision, drug testing, administrative, probation start up, and electronic monitoring fees. Before long, the fines become disproportionate to the severity of the offense.

Governmental bodies are increasingly relying on the criminal justice system (i.e. police and courts) to fund their budgets. A report issued by the United States Department of Justice found that police leadership in Ferguson, Missouri relied on “citation productivity” to increase the city’s budget and pressured officers to write citations “independent of any public safety need.”[i] Officers were encouraged to write multiple citations per stop and their performance evaluations were based, in part, on the number of citations they issued. In 2015, Ferguson anticipated that 23% of their income would come from the municipal courts. Ferguson is not alone in this reliance on court revenue. In Cairo, Georgia one judge imposed an “administrative cost” in addition to the fines and surcharges authorized by law on people who appeared before the court.[ii]  The judge added the administrative cost to raise revenue for the county, but also to increase his own personal salary. On average, each individual had between $700 and $800 levied against them. The county had collected approximately $300,000 in administrative costs over the course of a year using this tactic. The justice system risks losing sight of its responsibility to administer justice and protect the public when its focus is distracted by trying to fund a city budget.

Totonchi also discussed the criminalization of poverty that occurs through the money bail system. This system allows those who can post bail to secure freedom while denying it to those who cannot afford to pay, leaving poorer individuals to languish in jail until trial. The result is an unfair practice of detention based on one’s ability to pay and not necessarily a person’s flight risk or the danger they pose to the community. The ramifications for those who cannot afford to pay are often loss of job, loss of home, broken families, and lack of medical care. The Department of Justice in Varden v. City of Clanton stated that, “courts have long recognized, any bail or bond scheme that mandates payment [of] pre-fixed amounts for different offenses in order to gain pre-trial release, without any regard for indigence, … violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, … [and] constitutes bad public policy.”[iii]

Ms. Totonchi concluded that the legal profession has a special responsibility for shaping the way our courts operate. As attorneys, we have a responsibility to object when we see people jailed or mistreated for inability to pay fines and fees. A system that prioritizes collecting money over fairness in justice and public safety cannot and should not be tolerated. According to Ms. Totonchi, collaboration involving litigation, policy reform, community involvement, legislative advocacy, and investigative journalism have been the most effective approaches to making the justice system address these important concerns.

[i] U.S. Dep’t of Justice Civil Rights Division, Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department, at 10 (March 4, 2015), https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/opa/press-releases/attachments/2015/03/04/ferguson_police_department_report.pdf.

[ii] Southern Center for Human Rights, PRESS RELEASE: SCHR Demands Return of “administrative Costs” Illegally Imposed In Grady County State Court Money-making Scheme (August 2013), https://www.schr.org/resources/press_release_schr_demands_return_of_administrative_costs_illegally_imposed_in_grad. Last accessed 11/07/2017.

[iii] Statement of Interest of the United States, Varden v. City of Clanton, 2-15-CV-34-MHT-WC, MD Alabama, February 13, 2015, https://www.justice.gov/file/340461/download. Last accessed 11/07/2017.


IALL 2017 Recap: Examining Difficult History and Memory Through the Lens of Confederate Monuments

By Taryn Marks

confederate monuments

Sheffield Hale giving his talk, entitled Examining Difficult History and Memory Through the Lens of Confederate Monuments. Photo courtesy of Avery Le, October 23, 2017.

Sheffield Hale gave an excellent talk on Monday, October 23, on what to do about Confederate monuments. Mr. Hale, the current president and CEO of the Atlanta History Center, had just been appointed to the Atlanta Advisory Committee on Confederate Monuments and Street Names (a commission created by Mayor Kasim Reed in response to the violence in Charlottesville, VA), so Mr. Hale brought significant expertise to the current and sensitive issues surrounding Confederate monuments.

Mr. Hale first assured the audience that the United States is not alone in its struggle over historical monuments, and provided examples from the USSR, South Africa, and former colonies of either the United Kingdom or the U.S. Across the globe, citizens have addressed these historical statues in one of two ways: either reimagining the monument or removing it. Mr. Hale pointed to a notable example of the former in Ukraine, in which a statue of Vladimir Lenin became a statue of Darth Vadar and then noted the petition by one artist that Atlanta’s Stone Mountain (essentially the Confederate version of Mount Rushmore) be altered by adding OutKast to the carving.

confederate monuments 2

Photo courtesy of cnn.com.

The second option, removal, comes with it the difficult decision of what to do with the monument once it has been taken down. While some monuments might be properly placed in a museum or private collections, Mr. Hale noted that it can be difficult to find a museum willing to host the monument, generating a laugh when he indicated that this was not a plea for the monuments to be donated to his museum. In Gainesville, FL, where I live, the Confederate statue from the town square recently found a new home at a nearby cemetery, with the United Daughters of the Confederacy paying and arranging for the removal and relocation. They decided on the cemetery after exhausting other options.

Mr. Hale emphasized that removal should be a community decision, one that considers the history of the monument and the context in which it was enacted. For him, the most important consideration should be why the monument exists in the first place. Did those who built it do so to memorialize the dead of the Civil War, most likely soon after the end of the Civil War? Or did they enact it as a veneration of the ideals of the Confederacy, most likely in the 20th century? Mr. Hale argued that communities should look at what was said when the statue or monument was put up and that statues put up to venerate have less historical value, making it more likely that the statue should be removed.

Given recent events, we will likely continue to see discussions about removing, renaming, or destroying monuments and statues related to the Confederacy. Mr. Hale’s lively discussion provided several excellent talking points and a bit of humor, and encouraged future dialog about these issues.