This spring, while campus was closed due to COVID-19, history graduate students Madeline Adams, Laura Cremer, Tahel Goldsmith, and Julia Mead took a lot of walks in Hyde Park. All were members of Leora Auslander’s Politics of Commemoration course and began to see their neighborhood in a new light through the lens of the class. The statues, plaques, parks, honorary streets and murals that had once blended into the background began to stand out. For their final project, they worked together to design a walking tour through Hyde Park’s commemorative landscape.
The tour focuses on the relationship between the University and the surrounding community, highlighting creative commemorations to lesser-known Hyde Parkers, such as Bessie Coleman, the first licensed Black woman pilot in the United States, as well as controversial chapters in the University’s history, including the development of nuclear energy and the University’s connection to Stephen A. Douglas and the Old University of Chicago.
The group’s project consists of a guided audio tour and interactive map, both of which can be accessed on the project’s website. The audio tour takes listeners from the plaque commemorating Barack and Michelle Obama’s first kiss in front of the Baskin-Robbins on 53rd Street to the DuSable Museum of African American History, with stops at eight other significant commemorative sites along the way. It draws on primary source research to discuss the histories of the people and events commemorated, as well as controversies surrounding their memories. The interactive map includes 132 commemorative sites and shows how they are distributed according to their year of dedication, form (i.e. bench, plaque, statue, etc.), and the race and gender of the person memorialized.
On July 7, 2020, President Robert J. Zimmer and Provost Ka Yee C. Lee announced plans to remove a bronze plaque in Hutchinson Commons and a stone from the Old University of Chicago mounted in the exterior wall of the Classics Building, which Adams, Cremer, Goldsmith, and Mead had included as a stop on their tour. The group has posted a response on their website urging the university to acknowledge and reckon with the University of Chicago’s connections to Douglas and slavery.
Photo credits: Urban renewal, University of Chicago Photographic Archive, [apf2-09822], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library; Nuclear Energy, University of Chicago Photographic Archive, [apf2-05339], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library; Douglas Hall, University of Chicago Photographic Archive, [apf2-10069], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.