Most sociological analyses of historical commemoration focus on the techniques by which positive events are recalled; however, just as heroes receive credit in nation building, so do villains. To examine the process of negative commemoration, we describe how Benedict Arnold’s “treason” has been commemorated, specifically focusing on two distinct but complementary modes of dealing with troubling historical figures: demonization and nonpersonhood. News of Arnold's attempted treason in 1780 triggered a wave of violent demonstrations in cities throughout the American colonies. Those demonstrations comprised a mass degradation ceremony that rekindled the spirits of war-tired Americans, and transformed the remembered character of the once heroic Arnold into that of a despised turncoat. His case demonstrates that, although there are parallels between positive and negative commemoration, the means for dealing with consensually defined villains differ from those for heroes. We conclude with a discussion of the broader social implications of “evil” reputations.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science