Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Published in Great Plains Quarterly 24:4 (Fall 2004). Copyright © 2005 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln.


Memorializing history in the landscape reflects deep-seated cultural needs. This process not only pays homage to the actions, events, or persons deemed significant at a particular point in time, but it also offers a chance for the creators of the historic marker to write their version of history and to use an interpretive format that highlights their own understanding and values. Cultural geographer Kenneth Foote observes in a study of American memorials, "What is accepted as historical truth is often a narrative shaped and reshaped through time to fit the demands of contemporary society." The significance of selecting particular historical interpretations for commemoration is that the impress of these upon the landscape plays a key role in shaping social memory, as "nations rewrite their history, forgetting much, denying more, and replacing past perspectives with new national images and explanations." Ironically, some of the peoples central to American identity - Native Americans - are often memorialized with markers that "mistreat" them, creating a contested landscape of social memory that stands "in desperate need of revision."