A monument directly refers to past events. Often it explicitly recalls what happened and when. A monument is both inclusive and exclusive. While it cites an event that is of significance to the builders of the monument, it often expresses one point of view on the matter. By citing one event, it excludes all other events that might have occurred in that place.
The monument at Vimy, France, recalls one of the several great battles engaged by Canadian Forces during the First War. The monument comprises not only the obelisk, and statuary, but surrounding fields and a museum. These battles are often identified as pivotal moments in Canadian history, marking points on this country’s emergence from colonial rule. The Monument marks not only the battle, but impact.
A street sign; a plaque that reveals the significance of a name, of a scar, of something otherwise invisible. These monuments are more subtle than the obelisk and statues. If noticed, they simply ask us simply to remember. Each of these examples cause us to pause, to develop a sense of reverence, and silence. The silence opens a space in our minds for us to fill with our reflections, to so we might feel the trauma of the event.
Some plaques are admissions of guilt. Recognising past atrocities asks the current generation to reflect on the mistakes of those who preceded them with the hope of not repeating them, and thus forms an essential component of ethical remembrance.
This plaque recalls the “death march” for 467 prisoners from Sonneberg Germany:
The 467 prisoners of the KZ Buchenwald sub-camp Sonneberg.
Monuments are frequently associated with historical figures, or significant events, such as battles (usually the victories). However, if we broaden our definition of monument to include informational plaques, we gain access to a perspective on the other aspects of past experiences.
This plaque informs the reader of one aspect of the toy-making industry in Sonneberg Germany:
This is where the characteristic mixture of residential and factory buildings, characteristic of the heyday of the Sonneberg toy industry around 1900, was most clearly preserved. The front buildings were elaborately designed as residential and commercial buildings and equipped with a highly articulated facade, while in the back of the factory buildings with half-timbered and slate facades were kept objective and sober.