Story+ Project

Remote: The Sound of Monuments and Protest


Story+ 2022 | The Sound of Monuments and Protest

Monuments commemorating politicians and soldiers who fought for the Confederacy during the American Civil War never stood silent. In our Story+ project, we will consider why people celebrate, protest, or decide to keep silent about aspects of our collective past by turning to sound. In particular, our goal is to research how people since the late nineteenth century have constituted, reclaimed, and contested commemorative practice around public sculptures through speeches given at dedications, public lectures, poetry, song, instrumental performances, and recorded sound. This expansive account of the ephemeral soundings and embodiment of performance will help us investigate why certain events in the past rather than others have been the object of commemoration; what these creations stood for originally; how their meanings have changed over time; the role race, gender, and sexuality play in commemorative culture; and the lessons, if any, these commemorative practices continue to teach us today.

In close consultation with the project sponsor and graduate student, you will select a national or local public monument to the Civil War whose sonic history you will research. Audio, visual, and textual archival material will be used to tell the story of this monument. You will conduct research in digital audiovisual archives at Rubenstein Special Collections, the Library of Congress, and in other online collections, which contain sheet music collections, illustrated covers for albums, typescripts of speeches, radio and television broadcasts, oral histories, and the silent traces of protest in print media and photographs. As you work with these materials, you will identify the ephemeral soundscapes that help constitute the public memorial you have chosen. How does sound inflect how monuments have occupied public space? How do spoken word and musical performance constitute the “soundtrack” when a statue was dedicated?

Moreover, this Story+ project will investigate how the participatory nature of public history opens us the potential for resistance. Many of you will ask how sonic interventions challenge the supremacist and universalizing perspective of commemorative aesthetics. What were the sounds that uplifted freedom movements protesting public memorials? What kinds of silences have persisted over the years that a public sculpture has stood? Whose voices were prohibited at these commemorative settings? Finally, you will reflect on the limitations of the audiovisual archives you have worked with. To what extent do these materials suppress and distort what commemorative culture sounded like and do not represent the people who shaped it? All of these findings, including audiovisual material will come together for you to tell a multimedia micro-history of the monument you have chosen.

This is a remote project.

Essential Skills

  • Creative and critical thinking
  • Online research skills
  • Willingness to collaborate and to work independently

Desired Skills

  • Experience or willingness to learn how to do archival research
  • Musical background of any kind
  • Visual and textual analysis
  • Coursework in Sound Studies, History of Art, American History, and/or Performance studies
  • Experience in museums or galleries
  • Graphic design on digital platforms
  • Experience in multimedia integration
Project Sponsor(s): 

Vance Byrd, Duke 2021 Humanities Unbounded Fellow, Presidential Associate Professor Germanic Languages and Literatures University of Pennsylvania


Graduate Mentor(s): 

Ellie Vilakazi, Ph.D. candidate in English


Princess Jackson (NCCU), De’Ja Bunyan (NCCU), Morgan Chumney, Malynda Wollert

Atlanta Cyclorama. Image credit: Carol M. Highsmith, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


  • Arts
  • Monuments
  • Race
  • Sound
  • Civil Rights
  • History