top of page

What’s a digital intervention for commemoration?

In an era of fervent memorialization and contentious debates about who and what should be commemorated in the public sphere, the conversation has largely been limited to physical monuments such as statues, plaques and landmarks. These structures advance narrow cultural narratives about the past, require significant capital to establish, and allow for no interaction or annotation by the public. As a result, there is little opportunity for most Americans to participate in what gets remembered – and yet the hunger is there, visible in heated debates, defaced statues and renamed spaces cropping up in communities across the nation. 

Jefferson Davis Statue, New Orleans 2004.

press to zoom

Renaming Harry Flood Byrd Middle School, Henrico County VA. 2017.

press to zoom

Stickers on Susan B Anthony grave, 2017.

press to zoom

Jefferson Davis Statue, New Orleans 2004.

press to zoom

With a theoretical underpinning in collected memory studies and public history, the Digital Atlas of Southern Memory (DASM) presents a prototype for a platform that can enable broader participation in the commemoration process. It aims to be an engine for doing what public history, at its best, should do: meet modern, digital audiences where they are; help them connect with their own history, and awaken a curiosity – and usually, an opinion – about what they hope will be remembered.


Located in the American South, a region that historically has taken an active role in constructing narratives about its past, the DASM is comprised of two parts:


The visualization reveals what people in the region choose to remember through monuments, named public spaces and other commemorative forms. The prototype showcases names of public schools and streets in order to surface narratives that are more subtly embedded in daily life than statues and plaques.


The interactive component provides a forum for the public to alter the record of collected memory if they find that the dominant narratives don’t tell their story. Users can add new digital monuments; hold debates about statues and named spaces; and annotate existing ones by providing context, suggesting alterations or expressing an opinion. The prototype invites suggestions for new “memories” and for adding context to existing sites.


By harnessing the affordances of digital, those that already have helped to broaden access to and engagement in local and family history, the DASM models a participatory, broad-based form of commemoration.

Thanks and acknowledgements: I rendered the data in QGIS and ArcGIS with assistance from Bahare Sanaie-Movahed, GIS Specialist at Northeastern University, and Ben Schmidt, Assistant Professor of History at Northeastern University. I am additionally grateful for the feedback and support from Marty Blatt, Cameron Blevins, Victoria Cain, Sarah Connell, Julia Flanders, Gretchen Heefner, and my peers in the Digital Humanities Certificate program and History Department at Northeastern University. 

About the Author

Caroline Klibanoff is a public historian and civic engagement enthusiast focused on digital storytelling, engagement and strategy, originally from Atlanta. She has an M.A. in Public History with a Certificate in Digital Humanities from Northeastern University and a B.A. in American Studies and Film and Media Studies from Georgetown University.


Contact Caroline:




bottom of page