How the History of the University of Minnesota is Remembered

What are the questions we all need to consider as we reflect on how history is remembered in words and statues, buildings and monuments?

We invite you to consider these questions and any others that this exhibit has raised for you.

  • What surprised you about the exhibit?
  • What impact did learning about the intensity of antisemitism and racism on the campus in the 1930s have on you?
  • Where do you see yourself in this exhibit?
  • Have you ever experienced being under surveillance?
  • With awareness of its troubling past, how can the University today foster an inclusive community where people of all backgrounds and political beliefs can flourish?

The history of the University of Minnesota is alive in the campus, in the names on its buildings and seminar rooms, and in the markers and portraits that adorn its walls. The official histories of the University of Minnesota honor—and erase—the lives of administrators, faculty, students, and all of the people who have worked here.

How can the University remember those who created—and resisted—the policies of racism, antisemitism, and student rights, to support a diverse and egalitarian community?

Projects that raise the question of memory are often asked if it is fair to look at the past through the lens of the present. Some politicians, citizens, and writers wonder if it is appropriate to focus on decisions taken by leaders without paying attention to all of their accomplishments.

“A Campus Divided” documents the divisions, the debates, and the issues of the 1930s on the campus of the University of Minnesota. If we believe that “most” colleges or universities practiced racial segregation in some form, or that antisemitism was broadly accepted during this period, we exclude the debates that occurred in a time period. It is not hindsight that drives us to remember how problematic segregation was. Were we to accept the racial hierarchy as “normal,” we would erase the dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of people who opposed it at the University of Minnesota between 1931 and 1942. We would erase the impact of fighting fascism in Europe on the lives of people who rejected racism because it resembled Nazism.

Historical memory requires all of us to know what happened to all groups in a society. The histories of those without power are especially important to find and report. The range and variety of voices that reveal the past are key to history. At the same time, we are also called on to understand how those same relationships between the powerful and those with less power shape how we look back on the past. We risk the double injury of an erasure of what happened and how we recall it if we fail to do that.

If you are interested in learning more about memory, public spaces, and history, check out some of these sites, articles, and statements.

Historians Discuss Confederate Monuments

In the wake of the Charlottesville tragedy, historians across the country provided important historical context and insight to the public. The AHA compiled op-eds, interviews, and statements that our members, fellow historical societies, AHA council members, and staff have made about the importance of historical thinking and knowledge within the current debate.