Online Lecture: Monumental Controversies: Mount Rushmore, Four Presidents and The Quest for National Identity

Date: 10-08-2020

Time: 07:30 PM

Location: Online

Dr. Harriet Senie, Director of the M.A. Program in Art History and Art Museum Studies at City College and CUNY Graduate Center will give a virtual lecture titled “Monumental Controversies: Mount Rushmore, Four Presidents and The Quest for National Identity" on Thursday, October 8th at 7:30 p.m.

Memorials are complicated and Mount Rushmore is more complicated than most. What you see depends on your view of American history. Many people consider George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt as heroic champions of foundational American values emblematic of United States national identity. An increasing number, however, see a colossal monument built on sacred land belonging to the Lakota Sioux and disparage the four presidents for policies and practices now considered unacceptable or worse.

Washington’s experience as a surveyor determined his policy towards Native Americans whose lands interfered with both his commitment to national expansion and his belief in the sanctity of private property. Jefferson, too, was a dedicated expansionist, and his Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the country. At what point can expansionism be considered imperialism? Washington never spoke publicly against slavery but freed his slaves in his will. Jefferson’s statements against slavery were contradicted by his personal relationships even though he was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln saved the union and freed enslaved people but couldn’t imagine an integrated society and was responsible for the hanging of more Native Americans at one time than any other president before or since. Theodore Roosevelt was a progressive and ardent conservationist but seized Native American lands in the process and was sharply criticized for his international policies.

Each president has been portrayed in painting and sculpture over time reflecting the ways each age interpreted their significance. Today we interrogate our memorials closely for their underlying implications. This talk considers what memorials mean today and seeks to develop an inclusive narrative of national identity that neither idolizes the four presidents on Mount Rushmore nor demonizes them.

This event is presented in conjunction with the virtual exhibition Howard Skrill: Monumental Follies. Check out the exhibition at

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For more information, contact Emily McKeon / 2032544046 /