Newly Released “National Monument Audit” is the First Accounting of our Nation’s Commemorative Landscape

mirror plinth in park Karyn Olivier, The Battle is Joined, Philadelphia, "Monument Lab: Citywide Exhibition," 2017 (Mike Reali/Mural Arts Philadelphia)

Monument Lab’s audit of the commemorative landscape, in partnership with the Mellon Foundation, arrives at a pivotal moment in the national conversation about monuments.  

Who are the 50 individuals most frequently represented by a public monument in the US? What percentage of those 50 are white and male? How many are women? And what are the dynamics that helped shape who is—and who is not—on that list? Answers to those questions are among the findings of the National Monument Audit, a first-of-its-kind report issued by Monument Lab, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit art and history studio. With support from the Mellon Foundation, Monument Lab and its research team spent a year scouring hundreds of thousands of historic records, developing a study set of nearly 50,000 monuments, and analyzing those statues, monoliths, and markers to gain new insights into the country’s commemorative landscape.  

The audit is not intended to be a record of every monument in the US. Such an undertaking would be impossible, largely because there is no official shared definition of what a monument is, a point that “cannot be overstated,” according to Monument Lab’s report, which also notes that “the debate over what constitutes a monument plays out daily in every corner of the country.” For its part, Monument Lab defines a monument as “a statement of power and presence in public,” a meaning shaped by a decade of conversations in public spaces across the country. These conversations also made it clear to the audit team that monuments not only help us remember, they can “push us to recognize the ideas that could never be captured or rendered in stone.”