Vance Byrd, Frank and Roberta Furbush Scholar in German Studies presents: Confederate monuments to the Civil War have become flashpoints for protest movements across the United States. Have these statues outlasted their purpose? Should museums instead teach us ethical lessons about nationhood, the violence of war, and racism? While some monuments have been torn down, others have been painstakingly restored, such as the Atlanta Cyclorama. It is perhaps a testament to the power of illusionism that many regard this painted panorama to be a monument to Confederate indefatigability when in actuality the late nineteenth-century German artists who painted it in Milwaukee created a scene of defeat. Indeed, seeing a panorama composition is a complex performance contingent on actors willing to see what is not there while permitting others to imagine what history could have been. In my lecture, however, I want to direct our attention to what was heard at panorama shows. I will compare the lectures made for the Atlanta Cyclorama at four historical moments: Reconstruction, after the release of Gone with the Wind, in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement, and today. The restoration of this painted panorama and its reinstallation in new museum settings at these moments document Atlanta’s evolving relationship with the past and the changing nature of memory. By focusing on the audio and video lectures produced after these respective moments, I will highlight the ethical shortcomings of these revised narratives to promote restorative practices that that might disrupt the panorama’s presentation of Civil War history as a continuous heroic narrative without contradictions. What is the story of the racism and war that needs to be heard today?
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