Of Monuments and Meaning
Geography Professor Adrian Mulligan, who co-led the trip, explores the meaning behind the markers.

Sherri Kimmel: We saw two memorials in France, both connected to Pennsylvania. One was the bridge at Fismes over the Vesle River, built in 1928 to honor the soldiers of the 28th Division who turned back the Germans. It’s a functional object devoted to one unit.

Then there’s the large, formal Pennsylvania Memorial at Varennes-en-Argonne. What are the differences in their approach to memorialization?
Professor Adrian Mulligan: Before we arrived at that bridge, I hadn’t realized that the Americans after World War I had managed to both construct a much-needed piece of French infrastructure and, at the same time, a memorial to American troops. I thought this was pretty ingenious, and it makes that particular bridge a unique kind of monument. It’s quite a selfless thing to do — two countries continuing to work together after a war instead of reverting back to nation-state interests.

In contrast, we were struck by the immense scale of the Pennsylvania Memorial at Varennes, which is off the beaten track and a little bit forgotten. It was constructed in a neoclassical Greek style in a tiny village on top of a hill that provides amazing views across a valley. Geographers think about senses of place — the vibe of a place, the meanings of a place, what’s being imbued by a place. At Varennes you’ve got a massive scale that speaks to you when you visit. It deliberately conveys larger ideals that so many were arguably killed fighting for. The architecture is grand and solid and very sure of itself. At the time, this was considered the war to end all wars — they didn’t know that World War II was coming — so it’s understandable that it took that particular scale and had that immense size.

Is the Buckellians in World War I project a fitting form of memorialization for the University to be pursuing?
Yes, I would like to believe these folks who served and who, in some tragic cases, were killed would be happy that we are remembering them in this fashion — that we’re trying to use this project as an educational tool. It’s about thinking beyond ourselves; it’s about critiquing the world. As a university, memorializing in this fashion seems to be fitting and very respectful and meaningful. If this project could get us to focus on what it means to be from Bucknell, that would be important.

What are you learning so far?
When I look at these folks who served, and I see on the database what their major was, I see engineering a fair bit, for example, but I also see degrees like philosophy and English. In other words, I see the liberal arts. One of the principal questions I have, therefore, is, did their Bucknell education inform their decision to volunteer to serve in this war? To be able to think beyond themselves, to contextualize a bigger picture, to realize that they could make a difference?

There’s still a foundational stone in this project that we’re grappling with, which is, we are saying these individuals were Bucknellians. They were ours. They were part of our community. But what is it that made them Bucknellians? What is it that defines a Bucknellian? I hope we can begin to answer those questions as we move into the next stage of the project.