ACT Graduate Student Erin Genia (SMACT ’19) recently led an “Experiment in Pedagogy” program, Monuments in Perspective, as part of  the MIT School of Architecture and Planning’s 150th Anniversary. Over a weekend in April 2019, a group of 20 students, faculty, and MIT community members traveled to sites of significance to the Wampanoag, Nipmuck, Ponkapoag and Massachusett peoples of this region.


Monuments in Perspective

In preparation for my thesis, “Wokiksuye: The Politics of Memory in Indigenous Art, Monuments, and Public Space,” I organized a weekend of site visits called “Monuments in Perspective,” which took place on April 6 and 7, 2019. My proposal, for “Monuments on Perspective,” was selected from an open call for the MIT School of Architecture and Planning’s 150thAnniversary, and was chosen as an “Experiment in Pedagogy,” to be part of a series of events marking the occasion. Over a weekend, a group of 20 students, faculty, and MIT community members, traveled to sites of significance to the Wampanoag, Nipmuck. Ponkapoag and Massachusett peoples of this region. Tribal leaders Jonathan James-Perry (Aquinnah Wampanoag), council member and culture-bearer, and Jean-Luc Pierite, (Tunica-Biloxi), president of the North American Indian Center of Boston, presented history and facts significant to the locations that included Aquinnah Cliffs, Christiantown, Solstice Rock, Plymouth Rock, and the Blue Hills. Jonathan James Perry gave a tour of Aquinnah tribal lands and showed us the traditional wetu house he had built. Jean-Luc Pierite read aloud the “1675 Order of Removal by the Massachusetts Bay Colony,” which has had lasting impacts not only for tribal people of this region, but for the settlement of America. Lastly, the city archeologist of Boston, Joseph Bagley led the group on a tour of ancient quarry sites within the Blue Hills.

Workshop Description

“Monuments in Perspective,” is a way of understanding this region better through site visits. By embodying a place-based methodology that is practiced by Indigenous peoples, and can also be described through genius loci, participants will visit sites of significance to Native peoples of this region: the Nipmuk, Ponkapoag, Wampanoag and Massachusett. Engaging local tribal leaders and experts who can lead students on site, we will pursue an understanding of the land that is inclusive of the Indigenous peoples who live here and whose experiences are often erased. Critical discussion of historical legacies, public space, ethics of memory and the growing movement of Colonial and Confederate monument removal, will inform the work of students of art, architecture and urban studies.

Students will explore questions of site- specificity in public art and historic monuments. What hidden histories lie under a housing development, public park, parking lot, or high rises? What pieces of human and natural history have been glorified or erased from a given location over time? With a focus on marginalized histories, we will consider how monuments marking Native American sites of cultural significance inform the public about historical events and shape public opinion about Native Americans today. Exploring case studies of monuments, historic markers, museums and public art, we will consider the ethics of memory and how our shared past can be honored in order to influence a positive future.

— Erin Genia