It’s been an eventful summer for Lexie Little.
The season started out in a great way for the journalism graduate student when she heard she was the recipient of a coveted Hearst Award, and the summer has only intensified as her master’s thesis topic has become one of the talked-about topics of the summer—the study of Confederate monuments.
In May, Little was notified that she was the recipient of a Hearst Award in the Personality/Profile category. The Hearst Awards are some of the most competitive collegiate awards for writing and journalism, and Little was nominated by the University of Tennessee for a feature she wrote as an undergraduate student there. The piece was about UT alumnus Clarence Brown, a well-known director of movies from the 1920s to the 1940s. The piece, “A Roustabout Career: The Forgotten Celebrity of Clarence Brown,” was published in the “Torchbearer,” the UT alumni magazine.
Learning that she was one of ten winners out of a field of more than 120 entries fueled Little’s next project: research for her master’s degree thesis. What she didn’t realize back in February when she finished the first draft of her study proposal is that her subject — collective memory of four Confederate monuments — would be topical in today’s environment with protests surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement.
“My research over the past few months has given me deeper context to process the news now,” Little said. “It’s helped me understand how a cultural site like a monument can be deeply symbolic to some people while marginalizing another segment of the population.”
Little’s research is focused on four monuments that were erected nearly 30 years after the Civil War and beyond — the Robert E. Lee monument that is being contested for a move in Richmond, Virginia; a monument in Chicago built as reconciliation for Confederate prisoner of war camps during the Civil War; a since-removed bust to Robert E. Lee in New York City; and the controversial monument to Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia.
With a significant time gap between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and the dedication of these monuments, public commemoration sparked her interest. Little is studying how press coverage of the monuments contributed to the formation and perhaps distortion of collective memory of the nation across regional, political, and racial lines at flashpoints in the 1890s and 1920s. She is especially interested in the narrative and negotiation of how society chose to remember, or not to remember, the Civil War and how those memories shifted over time as evidenced in seven different newspapers.
Guiding her project is what Little believes is an all-star committee of faculty to help mold her as a scholar: Janice Hume, Carolina Acosta-Alzuru and Karen Russell.
“ I deeply respect Dr. Hume and Dr. Russell as media historians, and I really admire Dr. A’s work in qualitative methodologies, breaking the mold of what some consider more ‘traditional’ communication research to pave the way for those of us who want to explore cultural and critical studies through various approaches,” Little said. “All three have significantly contributed to not only student education, but to our understandings of culture and communication, and I am lucky and grateful to have them.”
Little, who also serves as a graduate assistant for the Georgia Scholastic Press Association, chose UGA to pursue her master’s degree because of the stellar faculty at Grady College who specialize in collective memory, media history and qualitative research methods.
“I’m kind of a CV stalker,” Little continued, “I wanted to find faculty whose professional and research interests closely align with mine, and what my professors here study and what they have done professionally outside academia were of real interest.”
As she is pulling together the research, responsibilities both as a scholar and professional journalist weigh on her mind, including perspectives she decides to cite and who she decides to quote.
“These are important methods of practice because they will impact how future generations remember people and places and events,” Little concluded.
“It’s critical for both journalists and memory scholars alike to have a voice in current affairs, including the conversations, or lack thereof, surrounding Confederate monuments and symbolism. Many people fail to consider how various segments of the population view symbols like these monuments and how those views have been institutionalized over decades through cultural practice and media sites. I think it’s important for memory scholars to contribute to the conversation and, in turn, for media to consult those scholars to provide context. It’s not just a historical debate, it’s a cultural reckoning. And I hope close study will help to shed light on this moment.”