Memorials Expert Chris Post Discusses 50th Commemoration of May 4, 1970

Cultural and historical geographer seeks to connect importance for today’s students, society

Growing up, Chris Post watched as his mom juggled her collegiate studies and motherhood, balancing everyday life with dreams of earning her Ph.D.

And while field excursions with his biologist mom are a memory of his childhood, the impact of place is something this cultural and historical geographer seeks to define today. Earning a Ph.D. of his own, Dr. Post knows that what we leave behind says a lot about where we are headed.

“I’ve always been interested in space and the idea of place and also this landscape that we build that is, in part, a result of all the things that we do,” said Dr. Post, associate professor of geography at Kent State University at Stark. “Whether it is an office building or a cemetery, or a farm, what we build means something to us. Memorial landscapes reflect the past, but they also have their own histories.”

That history is on display for the next generation. 

As a member of Kent State President Beverly J. Warren’s Advisory Committee for the 50th Commemoration of May 4, 1970, Dr. Post is happy to be a part of the upcoming remembrance connecting today’s Kent State students with events that played an important role not only in the university’s history, but also in American history.

“The 50th is producing a continued conversation about the importance of memorial spaces, the impact they have and the lessons we all can learn,” Dr. Post said. “We are constantly learning from the spaces around us, and, across the country, a lot more work has been going into how memorials educate the public in an informal way.”

What to Look for

When visiting any memorial in a public space, Dr. Post said visitors should look for what is represented in the space – and what is not.

“Memorials tell us a lot about what matters and who counts, but in doing so, it also tells us a lot about who doesn’t matter and what doesn’t count in society,” Dr. Post said.

He points to the recent removal of the Robert E. Lee Monument in New Orleans, an event his geography students have discussed in class. 

“We understand what a memorial means to people beyond the group who put the memorial up, and how different members of society perceive memorials differently,” Dr. Post said. “That’s why I think we are doing a better job of understanding our memorials in recent years.”

When Dr. Post came to Kent State in 2008, he looked forward to studying the May 4, 1970, memorial efforts.

“May 4 is something my mom and I had talked about while I was growing up, so coming here and having the opportunity to dig into that, I had to do it,” he said. “Geographers are folks who love to travel, but there is another side of us that loves to dig into the local of where we live.”

More to Learn

Two years ago, Dr. Post published the paper, “Beyond Kent State? May 4 and Commemorating Violence in Public Space” in Geoforum, a peer-reviewed academic journal of geography. Still, there is a lot to learn from the historic day.

“The events surrounding May 4, 1970, are memorialized well with the new May 4 Visitors Center and walking tour,” he said. “When we look at the violence that continues to take place in public spaces, especially against protesters, I don’t think we’ve learned enough as a society from the memorial landscape on the Kent State University campus.”

Dr. Post also said it is important for the university community to continue to learn about the role of May 4, 1970, on life today. 

“During the 50th Commemoration, students will have the opportunity to understand the importance May 4 has not only to them as Kent State students, but as American citizens,” he said. “When they graduate, whether it is from a Regional Campus or the Kent Campus, their degree is going to say Kent State University. When they go out into the world, people will ask them about that day.”

Just as Dr. Post learned early from excursions with his mother, it is what they learn from what is left behind that will prepare students for the journey ahead.

To learn more about Kent State’s plan for the 50th Commemoration of May 4, visit www.kent.edu/president/may4.
 
To learn more about the Kent State May 4 Visitors Center, visit www.kent.edu/may4visitorscenter.