David Cunningham


Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology, Arts & Sciences, Washington University in St. Louis

David Cunningham Webpage

ABSTRACT | The Ecology of Memory Movements: Reimagining History & Identity in a Crucible of Populism 

As a longtime bastion of segregation in a deeply conservative state, the University of Mississippi is suffused with symbols of white supremacy. More recently, however, the Oxford, MS, campus has also gained attention for progressive efforts to acknowledge and inclusively reflect upon its institutional history. The seemingly paradoxical story of Ole Miss is not straightforwardly one of a blue oasis in the midst of a deeply red state. Rather, in many ways the campus has both anticipated and reflected the populist MAGA-style nationalism that enabled Trump’s victory in the 2016 election. This project interrogates the most highly-charged attempt to challenge canonical conceptions of the campus’ history and identity in our current political moment: the iterative struggle to (re-)contextualize the Confederate soldier statue residing in the university’s symbolic center. Guided by insights and concepts typically associated with social movement scholarship, I focus on the “long history” of this campaign to explain the emergence and evolution of the battle to reconfigure the campus’ symbolic landscape. This approach emphasizes the ecology of memory movements – the institutional infrastructure that provides a platform for change, the strategic orientation of key memory entrepreneurs to stakeholders around the state, and the path-dependent sequences that comprise the “packaged” site of local struggle on the campus and its surrounding environs.