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Memorials: Ways We Remember and Honor

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Two of three stone pyramids that form an unusual war memorial. Carol Highsmith, 2017

In the aftermath of the U.S. Civil War, May 30 was designated as Memorial Day to honor members of the military who died during that war. In 1971, federal law extended the observance to all soldiers who died in American wars and standardized it to the last Monday in May.

Recently, the team that produces this blog started talking about Memorial Day and the ways people commemorate and remember. That discussion led to a conversation about memorials, some of which honor those who were well known in the past but are not now.

Memorial Day can provide an opportunity for students to consider how we honor and remember important people within our communities.

Allow time for students to look at this image. Ask them to think about what this place might be. What clues do they see in the photograph?

Theodore Roosevelt Island

Share selections from the Historical American Building Survey collection of Theodore Roosevelt Island materials, including the measured drawings of the island and pages 1-3 of the report. What do the students know about Theodore Roosevelt? Based on their prior knowledge, ask them to explain if they think an island is an appropriate memorial for Theodore Roosevelt.

Deepen their thinking about the nature and functions of memorials.

  • Ask students what a memorial is and to talk about the kinds of memorials they have seen. Encourage them to think of other possible ways to honor the memory of a person such as a sporting event, a dinner, or a parade.
  • Allow time for them to consider why people create memorials and why they are important.
  • Invite students to design a memorial either to honor members of the military, a well known person, or a person who is important to them. What elements would they include in a memorial?

Want to learn more about Memorial Day traditions and memorials? In 2013, Teaching with the Library of Congress published a post exploring Memorial Day traditions and how Memorial Day was started. This post examines the creation of memorials for presidents of the United States.

Let us know in the comments what your students discover about memorials and Memorial Day.


  1. I wish more ‘students’ and teachers would respect all forms of memorials and understand why they are erected.
    They are a part of the human respect for the individual and a remembrance of a past event.
    Removing memorials will not change history or make past or present feelings change.
    Respecting ones history and roots without blame or injecting self degradation is a needed perspective.

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