Call for Papers: Culture Wars – Statues, Flags, Streets and Squares by WPCC

Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture (WPCC) has announced a call for papers in which it welcomes submissions that cover the role of the media in all forms (from public service broadcasting to social media, feature films to advertising) exploring contested representations of symbols and their remediation. 

Flags, emblems, monuments, street names, statues are some of the means by which nations and states promote themselves, both to their own citizens and to the world at large; the public face of our imagined communities. But as they seek to unify, such symbols have often been the occasion for contestation, disagreement, violence even. Empires, systems, regimes rise and fall. Societies change, and with such change comes a reassessment of societies’ symbolic life, as yesterday’s heroes become today’s villains, past triumphs a present embarrassment. The past is continually raked over, re-examined and reinterpreted, with each re-examination argued over. 

  • Deadline for abstracts: 28 June 2021 
  • Deadline for full papers: 30 August 2021

For more information, please check their website: https://www.westminsterpapers.org/news/14/.

Contested Histories: ‘Muralling’ and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland

On city walls, political contestation and artistic expression intertwine as hundreds of murals provide a stark representation of the anger, fear and hope felt by the communities which paint them. This case study examines the role of public art in the conflict and peace process in Northern Ireland. First, the context of conflict in Northern Ireland is explored. Second, the history of ‘muralling’ as a practice of ungoverned expression is traced. Third, contemporary contestations surrounding murals are discussed, with emphasis on exploring how engagement between new and old murals may be facilitated. Lastly, the case concludes that the practice of muralling is inseparable from discourse and responses of wider communities, from opposition, and that negotiating this line between controversy and freedom of artistic expression serves as an opportunity to work through tensions and convey solidarity with broader themes of oppression.

Read the full case study here.

Open Position: Project Management Trainee for Contested Histories project

Alicia Rijlaarsdam Opportunities ,

The Contested Histories team is looking for an enthusiastic and dedicated trainee to support case study research, project management, fundraising, administration, mapping, and outreach on the Contested Histories project. Due to the current health and safety regulations of the Netherlands, this is a remote position which may become in-person at the EuroClio office in The Hague if restrictions loosen. 

The IHJR's project Contested Histories is a multi-year initiative intended to address controversies over statues, memorials, street names and other representations of disputed historical legacies in public spaces. The objective of the Contested Histories project is to provide decision-makers, policy planners, educators, and other stakeholders with a set of case studies, best practices and guidelines for addressing historical contestations in an effective and responsible manner. For more information on the Contested Histories project, click here.  

Trainee Responsibilities

In this role, you will work with the Contested Histories Project Manager, Research Coordinator, and team of professional volunteers to ensure the timely and high-quality delivery of the project outputs: 

Case Study Research

  • Revise and edit existing case studies in preparation for publication
  • Condense long-from papers into case studies
  • Write articles or other pieces for publication 
  • Map potential external reviewers and coordinate review
  • Support the development of research & editorial policy guidelines

Project Management & Fundraising

  • Support fundraising activities and the writing of grant applications
  • Support the development of the Academic Committee
  • Coordinate agendas and minutes for meetings, lead discussions during meetings
  • Support the oversight of micro-interns and professional volunteers as necessary
  • Develop promotional materials
  • Support events management for the Contested Histories: Onsite project

Administration

  • Support the maintenance and tracking of research (including contracts)
  • Support participation in mission-relevant panel discussions and events
  • Support the GDPR officer with the organisation of internal documents 

Global Mapping of Cases

  • Monitor media and check Google alerts inbox for mission-relevant news & case updates
  • Support the cleaning of qualitative data for use in the database 
  • Fill out rubrics and Instagram templates for existing cases 
  • Support the development of an ArcGIS platform
  • Identify key players in the field (organisations, journalists, academics) and in related fields such as law, memory, or international relations

Outreach

  • Monitor & engage on mission-relevant topics on the Contested Histories Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter
  • Assist with website development and content
  • Develop concept note for a Contested Histories podcast series

Trainee Qualifications

The ideal candidate would…

  • Be in their final stages of their undergraduate degree or be enrolled in a Master’s or PhD programme with outstanding academic achievement, preferably in the area of history, international relations, or related fields
  • Be fluent in English, additional language comprehension is a plus
  • Have proven project management and academic research (writing and/or editing) skills in English
  • Have some knowledge of WordPress, Canva, ArcGIS, and data-cleaning is an asset
  • Have genuine interest in issues related to contested historical legacies
  • Be flexible and a dedicated team-player 

Please apply by Monday March 22 2021 at 9:00 CET to grace@euroclio.eu with a CV and Motivation Letter outlining your skills, experience, and interest. 

This is a role for a maximum of 6 months, starting 1 April 2021 and ending 31 October 2021. However, if a suitable candidate is not found in time for this starting date, the deadline will be extended and more candidates considered. 

Contested Heritage on Film: An interview with Oxford student & former intern Issabella Orlando on her award winning documentary ‘The Return Address’

Mechteld Visser Articles ,

When Issabella Orlando joined the Contested Histories team for a week-long research assignment in December 2020, she already had an extensive project on contested heritage under her belt. While studying full-time at Oxford University, Issabella wrote and directed the short documentary ‘The Return Address: Where Does Heritage Belong?’. The film delves into the question of how to approach contested heritage items in museums. Supported by expert interviews and footage from the world’s most extensive galleries, The Return Address highlights the same complexities inherent to the Contested Histories project: when confronted with new historical evidence and previously underrepresented narratives, how do we construct our sites of memory to reflect these nuances? After the completion of her internship, we checked in with Issabella to talk about her work on Contested Histories, the process of making a documentary, and her hopes for the future of the cultural heritage debate. 

Thank you so much for meeting with us Issabella! Before we delve into The Return Address, could you tell us a bit more about yourself and why you chose to work with us at the Contested Histories project?

My pleasure! I was born in Canada to an Italian family. When I was 17, I moved to London to study Classical Studies at King’s College London, which also presented me with the opportunity to study in Greece during the summer. Currently, I’m pursuing a master’s in archeology at Oxford. Aside from my educational background, I have always been a writer. My work focuses on travel, cultural heritage, and sustainable development. It’s the intersections between human society and the material world that keep me inspired.

Long before joining the Contested Histories project, I was fascinated by museums and their curated narratives. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement’s intensification in 2020, it seems that the collective psyche is also paying closer attention to the representation of history in contemporary space. For the project, I ended up fact-checking several case studies and writing a piece on how modern nations stake their claims on ancient narratives – for example,

 how Macedonian nationalists are keen to claim the legacy of Alexander the Great. I also curated a list of examples of contestations in museums and galleries, should the project’s scope expand to include them in the future. Such settings are subject to similar outcries for truthful representation of the past and restitution for historical and ongoing injustices.

Why do you think projects like Contested Histories and your documentary The Return Address are necessary in today’s society?

What I hope to underscore in all of my work is that the past is a powerful tool – narratives can be used in different ways, both positive and negative. Heritage can build up communities and heal past traumas; conversely, it can propagate hateful views and be weaponised against certain groups. Projects like ours show that history is not a dead discipline. The past is not that far away and history still affects our current points of view. It connects us to where we come from. Through these projects, we must also look at the ugly parts of the past and attempt to deal with them.

While researching contested cultural heritage debates, did you find any solutions for people attempting to deal with the past? 

As I show in the documentary, it is a very case-by-case situation. Each case is so nuanced; there is no one size fits all solution. In general, however, I believe that addressing contested history cases cannot involve a strictly top-down approach. It is crucial to involve as many community members as possible and to contact historical groups tied to the history in question to strive for inclusive decision-making. We should also consider whether a heritage object is part of a living culture or an ancient one, where the object is claimed by a nation regarding itself as its successor. When a heritage object is important to a living culture and its people, I would say claims for repatriation are the most justified.

Keeping those ideas in mind, was there a case that handled contested heritage issues in a positive, constructive way that stood out to you? 

One that comes to mind is the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, where curators have inherited quite a dark history but recently have done a good job contacting relevant communities about artifacts in their collection. We should keep in mind that there are solutions other than simply sending something back. In some cases, cultural groups whose heritage is on display have allowed museums to keep objects despite the questionable ways they acquired them. Some exhibitions can tour before reaching their final resting places. New technologies allow for replica making, which we can use to showcase versions of materials that no longer reside at the museum. Again, each case merits its own approach.

Going back to the process of making The Return Address, what inspired you to take on such a project?

I became aware of the debate around repatriation during my undergraduate studies, specifically while studying at the British School of Athens, Greece. When I looked to the media, I found that many reports focused on a few high-profile cases. However, when I discussed the issues with my friends and fellow students while visiting museums back in the U.K., I found that they were not as familiar with the wider repatriation debate. This inspired me to create a piece of media that would lay out the background of the discussion, as not everyone has access to academic materials. I wanted it to be engaging, cinematic, and inviting.

Could you take us through the process of developing your documentary?

I originally planned to write an editorial. On a whim, I mentioned this idea to a friend of a friend who also happened to be a videographer. He convinced me that we should make a film together. It made all the difference that I had a filmmaker who really believed in me and my vision. 

Before I started, I did around six months of research and interviewed about thirty academics from all over the world. At this point, I thought about the narrative I wanted to put forth. When I had a storyboard, I contacted the five academics that I felt best represented the discussion and would be most ‘camera ready’. Luckily, they were willing to participate, and after I wrote the questions, I interviewed them again on film. Meanwhile, I was also looking for grants and funding to supplement our shoestring budget. I built the interview clips into the storyboard, wrote the script, and then filmed the visual shots in London, Oxford, and Paris, supplemented with external footage. 

We edited it all together, which took forever. (But we did it during lockdown so that worked out).  We had a soft launch in August and submitted it to the festival circuit, where we won six awards. We’re now pushing it out, organising screenings, participating in panel discussions, and sharing it with you guys!

What were some of the main difficulties you encountered while working on The Return Address?

Summarising the debate! I really wanted to keep it under half an hour, so people could easily sit down and watch it. I was speaking to people who were highly educated and felt strongly about the topic, meanwhile in interviewing and scriptwriting I had to keep it as general and accessible as possible. While writing, I also had to be aware of how to talk about sensitive issues – carefully selecting language was crucial. What sounds okay from your perspective is not always the way a point should be formulated. I also wanted to make sure that terms with powerful connotations, such as ‘repatriation’ and ‘plunder,’ were defined with care so that we could have a meaningful conversation. In the film, I tried to invite the viewer to find their own way, letting the experts provide various arguments and using them as benchmarks for different viewpoints. I came to understand that as much as you are trying to educate people, you’re learning during the process as well. 

In the end, you have to be really committed to make such a project work. If it is the right project, you will choose to do it over leisure time. I found it was quite easy to stay engaged in that sense.

What do you hope The Return Address and the Contested Histories project will achieve? 

Ultimately, I hope we can reach a place where museums and urban spaces can be spaces where we engage with the truest representation of the past and where multiple voices are heard. There is still a lot of work to be done to incorporate all these voices in history. The people designing our museums and cities have a big job to do. Their task is to curate – to be the mouthpiece of all these different narratives. To include these narratives in the wider historical consciousness we need to begin with education – this is where I believe the Contested Histories project comes in. By presenting contested legacies in a nuanced way, the project gives us an informed start for including different narratives. However, curators and policymakers are not the only ones with a stake in the decision-making; I really believe in community driven initiatives, and I would certainly recommend involving grassroots movements and collaborative approaches to get us across the finish line. 

Is there anything else we have not discussed that you’d like to voice?

I really feel that as much as it can be difficult to come up with opinions and answers to these challenging questions, this is not a conversation we should shy away from. Making mistakes is not something we should be afraid of. I would encourage and implore anyone working on the Contested Histories project, or indeed anyone who visits museums and passes through public space, to not feel that they are unqualified to have an opinion. We all make use of public spaces where we live, we all have a stake in our own cultural heritage. This is a discussion we all take part in every day. 

Check out The Return Address: Where Does Heritage Belong on museandwander.co.uk/film and more of Issabella Orlando’s work on museandwander.co.uk, a platform for writings on travel and cultural heritage. 

A Reverse on Buller: how a Council rescinded its decision for relocation of a statue

Oliver Anthony Articles

There is a strange irony in Exeter City Council’s recent reversal of their decision to relocate a statue of nineteenth-century military leader, General Sir Redvers Buller; the man who had already earned himself the nickname ‘Reverse Buller’ for his garish military tactics and organisational failings. On January 12th, 2021, it was initially determined that the statue would be relocated, following a council-led Equality Impact Review which assessed its “continued appropriateness” in the city, particularly given the monument’s prominent position in front of Exeter College. Yet, on February 9th, less than a month after Exeter’s Executive Councillors voted in favour of re-locating the statue, councillors unanimously voted to withdraw from any further proposals that sought to remove the Buller statue. Why then, has the statue of Redvers Buller been the focus of controversy in the city? And what are the reasons for Exeter City Council’s recent abandonment of attempts to relocate the statue, otherwise dubbed a ‘Reverse on Buller’? It is these questions that I look to answer herein.

The equestrian statue of General Sir Redvers Buller, situated on the junction of Hele Road and New North Road in Exeter, was erected and paid for by local residents in the military leader’s honour on 6 September 1905[1]. Sometimes interpreted as a deliberate political act, the fifteen-feet statue stands on a large plinth and is engraved with ‘He Saved Natal’ alongside a list of countries that Buller served in. The fact the statue elicited such strong support amongst Devonians is indicative of a regional pride in Buller’s actions, who was widely perceived as “one of the county’s greatest heroes”[2], particularly while on another front he was facing criticism and disrepute from political and military bodies alike[3].

In recent years, the statue of Redvers Buller has become divisive on three levels. First, as it valorises a form of aggressive colonialist-imperialist expansionism from which Buller is so inseparably intertwined, particularly given his role in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 and the Second Boer War in 1899. It was during this War in South Africa that Buller led British soldiers against Dutch-speaking Boers in Transvaal and Orange State over control of gold mines, and where he also had acquaintance with the likes of Cecil Rhodes[4]. Second, his possible connection to, or support of, concentration camps in South Africa which were erected following victory in the war, and which subsequently led to the deaths of thousands of local Boers and Black Africans. And third, because of the disunion created today between those in support of the statue and those against, recently highlighted during the Black Lives Matter movement whereby the statue of Buller featured on crowd-sourced website ToppletheRacists.org, while on the flipside, Exeter City Council’s review of the statue was shunned by some as “ridiculous” and a form of “historical wokery”[5].

Figure 1: Extracts from The Express and Echo, a
newspaper for Exeter and surrounding area
(includes issues of February 4th and 11th, 2021)

Following heavy media-coverage of Black Lives Matter protests in June 2020, and after a banner was draped on the statue saying “Wanted for war crimes”[6], the true repercussions of protests directed at the statue of Buller were ultimately in their re-invigoration of council-led discussions.

To begin with, the Council’s Scrutiny Task and Finish Group was asked to investigate the appropriateness of the statue. The Group met on four occasions and took written and oral submissions from a range of stakeholders[7]. The result of this was made clear on January 12th, 2021, when Exeter’s Executive Council was presented with a ‘Review of the General Buller Statue’, carried out by Director Jon-Paul Hedge. The Review cited the statue as “the most conspicuous by way of location and controversy”[8] and concluded with the suggestion that there exist four strands of “significant strength of feeling” within Exeter’s communities. In no particular order, these favoured each of the following: removal of the statue all together, relocation as a form of cultural reference, redefinition it by way of narrative (such as adding a sign), and leaving it, instead focusing on education and inequality around the city.

Exeter’s Executive Councillors voted in favour of the Task Group’s findings, which ultimately opted for re-location as the best course of action, primarily due to the Army General’s connection to the British Empire[9]. Given that this vote was exclusive to Exeter’s Executive councillors, certain steps remained in place before a date and location could be set for its relocation, including seeking formal Listed Building consent to move the Grade II monument, a public consultation, and a final vote made by the city’s full council.

Figure 2: Snapshots from a petition on change.org that sought
to ‘Save Exeter’s Statue of Sir Redvers Buller’ (from
change.org, February 19th, 2021)

This initial decision received heavy criticism, with a petition on change.org seeking to appeal the decision receiving over 9,000 votes in just under a month, in part citing the £25,000 cost associated with its removal, but otherwise standing against the “erasure” of history (see Figure 3[10]). Elsewhere, more conservative views took to slamming the decision as a form of “historical wokery”, with the Daily Mail choosing to single out the verdict that, “[the statue] impacts anybody who does not define themselves in binary gender terms”[11].

After facing backlash against the decision to relocate the statue of Redvers Buller, the final nail in the coffin for the Council’s decision followed a statement by Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, who proclaimed that applications for the removal of statues were unlikely to be successful[12]. This proposition was made in reference to the UK Government’s recently revealed plans for a new law on cultural and historic heritage which seeks to ‘retain and explain’ as opposed to remove or relocate[13]. The repercussions of this are likely to have nationwide consequences but for the most part, its effect has been strongly felt in Exeter, where following a meeting on February 9th, Councillor Phil Bialyk of Exeter City Council released a statement which said: “In light of the comments by the Secretary of State, we will not be submitting a planning application to relocate the Buller state”[14].

And so, in a swift U-turn, the decision to relocate the statue of Redvers Buller has been completely rescinded. The Council in Exeter has reaffirmed its position on fulfilling the rest of the recommendations outlined in the Task Group’s findings. These include the creation of a working group to develop an anti-racism strategy for the council, as well an arts-based engagement programme project with residents in the city. The Council has also not dismissed erecting temporary information boards near the statue of Redvers Buller, nor the possibility of removing ‘He Saved Natal’ from the plinth on which Buller’s sits[15]. What these boards will say, and to what extent such actions address the statue’s divisive legacy is unclear, but one thing is certain, Redvers Buller has once again been at the receiving end of yet another heavily contested and politically replete reversal. Where Exeter’s decision-makers now turn in order to fulfil their obligations for equality and impact in the city will make for an interesting case to follow.

Main image ‘Statue of Redvers Buller’ taken by Ollie Anthony, January 29th, 2021.

[1] Donaldson, Peter. Remembering the South African War: Britain and the Memory of the Anglo-Boer War, from 1899 to the present (Liverpool: University Press, 2013), p.115.

[2] Hedge, Jon-Paul, ‘Review of the General Buller Statue’, Report to Executive, July 7th, 2020, https://committees.exeter.gov.uk/documents/s74633/Report%20-%20General%20Buller%20Statue.pdf (PDF 19)

[3] Malvern, Jack. ‘General Sir Redvers Buller sees off his foes in Exeter statue battle’, The Times, February 03, 2021.

[4] Thomas, Roy. Two Generals: Buller and Botha in the Boer War. (Bloomington: Authorhouse), pp.33

[5] Mail Online. ‘Council is slammed for ‘ridiculous and historical wokery’ over plans to remove a statue of a British war hero – with official report claiming it ‘impacts anybody who does not define themselves in binary gender terms’, Daily Mail, January 11, 2021 https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9135913/Council-slammed-historical-wokery-plans-remove-statue-British-war-hero.html (PDF15)

[6] Malvern, Jack. ‘General Sir Redvers Buller sees off his foes in Exeter statue battle’, The Times, February 03, 2021.

[7] Exeter City Council. ‘Councillors to discuss the future of Exeter’s Buller statue’, Exeter City Council, January 05, 2021.

[8] Hedge, Jon-Paul, ‘Review of the General Buller Statue’, Report to Executive, July 7th 2020, https://committees.exeter.gov.uk/documents/s74633/Report%20-%20General%20Buller%20Statue.pdf (PDF 19)

[9] Crediton Courier, ‘Exeter councillors approve next step towards removal of statue of Crediton-born Buller’, Crediton Courier, January 13th, 2021, https://www.creditoncourier.co.uk/article.cfm?id=145042&headline=Exeter%20councillors%20approve%20next%20step%20towards%20removal%20of%20statue%20of%20Crediton-born%20Buller&sectionIs=news&searchyear=2021&action=validate/ (PDF 18)

[10] Change.org. ‘Save Exeter’s Statue of Sir Redvers Buller’, Change.org, February 1st, 2021, https://www.change.org/p/exeter-city-council-save-exeter-s-statue-of-sir-redvers-buller

[11] Mail Online. ‘Council is slammed for ‘ridiculous and historical wokery’ over plans to remove a statue of a British war hero – with official report claiming it ‘impacts anybody who does not define themselves in binary gender terms’, Daily Mail, January 11, 2021 https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9135913/Council-slammed-historical-wokery-plans-remove-statue-British-war-hero.html (PDF15)

[12] Clark, Daniel. ‘Statue to stay but signs will be put near it and wording may change’, The Express and Echo¸ February 11th, 2021.

[13] Clark, Daniel. ‘Statue will stay as council would be unlikely to get permission to move it’, The Express and Echo, February 4th, 2021.

[14] Clark, Daniel. ‘Statue to stay but signs will be put near it and wording may change’, The Express and Echo¸ February 11th, 2021.

[15] Ibid.

Colston in Bristol: School Renaming

Samuel Wall Articles

After a storm comes the calm. When applied to “storms” of popular protest fuelled by contestations over controversial legacies of the past in public spaces – specifically those raised by the Black Lives  Matter Movement concerning colonialism, slavery, and racism in the wake of George Floyd’s killing on  25th May 2020 – this proceeding “calm” usually entails a period of reckoning. In the case of Edward  Colston, the most famous son of the dominant port city of South-Western England, this reckoning has  taken the form of revaluation; with the view to act on renaming relevant Bristolian buildings, following  on from the spontaneous toppling of the harbourside life-size bronze dedicated to the eighteenth century slave-trader. As an avid philanthropist, Colston was rewarded, both in his lifetime and  posthumously, with the honour of having his name immortalised in sites ranging from schools, parks, and streets, to even pastries and flowers. Now, Colston’s Girls School has become the latest high-profile  building to trigger reappraisal measures, taking the independent decision to distance itself from the  archaic figure.  

Over the last hundred years, since Rev Wilks’ critical biography was first published, Colston has been  increasingly scrutinised by residents, who themselves have experienced first-hand incidents of racial  unrest. In recent times, not only has Bristol been compelled to grapple with the issues of  contemporary racism exposed by certain flashpoints – namely the 1963 ‘Bus Boycott’ mirroring that  of Montgomery nearly a decade earlier and the infamous 1980s ‘St Pauls Riots’ incited by incessantly discriminatory policing practises – but its citizens have also actively sought to confront the career realities of their city’s chief benefactor.  

Britain’s hub for distilled alcohol and sugar refining production, the coastal Bristol unsurprisingly  played an integral part in the ‘triangular’ network of slavery, with over two thousand voyages,  accounting for transportation of approximately half a million slaves, charted from the Avonmouth by  local merchants throughout the 1700s. Assuming his father’s occupation, Colston established himself  as Deputy Governor of the monopolistic Royal African Company, which was personally culpable for  the murder of nearly a quarter of the estimated 84,000 slaves forcibly shipped from the continent’s  Western seaboard. 

From the 1990s, when the explicit phrase “F-ck off” was graffitied onto the Colston statue’s podium,  a vandalism justified by the sole contemporary black councillor, Ray Sefia, in comparing the  memorial’s appropriateness to an equivalent commemorating Adolf Hitler, a palpable antiracist  sentiment has exploded onto the scene. Since channelled into a concerted lobbying effort for concrete  policy change, both the renowned music venue of Colston Hall and Colston Primary School have  enacted a process of erasure via respective rebranding. Courtesy of the work conducted by  ‘Countering Colston’, despite the acquisition of more than 10,000 petition signatures in opposition to  the move, the former’s board of trustees voted to alter Colston Hall’s name as part of its 150th anniversary refurbishment. True to their word, in September 2020 the steeped arena opened under  the moniker Bristol Beacon. Following suit, in the instance of the latter, Colston Primary School  undertook a three-month consultative procedure that’s awareness drive resulted in the institute’s  rechristening as Cotham Gardens Primary.  

Catalysed by the preceding Summer’s popular protests, the likewise eponymously named Girl School,  that’s 1891 inception had been funded by a Colston financial endowment, announced on 6th November 2020 it would henceforth be known as Montpelier High School. Of the thirteen strong list  for other potential options, the new name, referring to the diverse bohemian vicinity that the school  is situated in, was approved by an overwhelming 62% of students and staff. On one hand, Principal  Kerry McCullagh proclaimed that it would “allow the school to forge a new identity that represents its  diverse and inclusive community”. On the other, Hemlata Pant, the head student delegate on the  deliberation, revealed her “excitement” at the prospect that this “moment” symbolised “the  beginning of something much bigger” than merely “helping to shape the future of the school”. Following removal of their own internal statue of Colston in June, the academy’s ultimately decisive  action represented a reversal of the governing Venture Trust Board’s initial stance, which, as of  November 2017, had resolutely resisted calls for the “no benefit” name change. On this note, the tale  of Colston Girl’s School is testament to the impact of the disposition of the original slave-trading statue.  

That said, whilst the reckoning of renaming has ostensibly played out with regards to all major public  buildings bearing Colston’s title, the ramifications of the storm’s collateral damage still linger. After  council authorities had overseen the statue’s retrieval for restoration in the M Shed museum, Avon  and Somerset Police launched an investigation into the incident. Consequently, on 9th December 2020  it was disclosed that four people – Rhian Graham, Milo Ponsford, Jake Skuse and Sage Willoughby – were to be charged with criminal damage, set to appear in Magistrate’s Court on 25th January 2021.  Pleading innocence, after posting bail amidst protests conducted virtually and in real-life, which led to  four more arrests for breaches of coronavirus legislation, the ‘Colson Four’ exercised their right to trial  by judge and jury; being scheduled a plea hearing on 2nd March in Crown Court, where it is expected  that the full criminal case will not be heard until 2022. 

Hence, the reactionary pushback against citizens taking matters into their own hands has called into  question the ethical legality of direct action in contesting histories of public spaces. The people of  Bristol may have taken down Colston in a figurative sense, but the sheer weight of the city’s historical ties to the slaver’s legacy continue to prove inextricably difficult to legally disentangle.  

Image “Colston’s Girls School” by Chris Bertram via Flickr licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Virtual book launch: Contested Histories in Public Spaces

Alicia Rijlaarsdam EUROCLIO, Project Updates ,

The virtual launch of the eBook Contested Histories in Public Spaces: Principles, Processes, Best Practices” will be held on Thursday 11 February (18:00 – 19:00 CET).

During the webinar, hosted by the International Bar Association, participants will hear from the volumes’ co-editors, such as Dr Timothy W Ryback, Dr Mark Ellis, and Benjamin Glahn, along with practitioners and scholars.

The landmark volume is intended for policymakers confronting controversies over historical legacies in public spaces like statues, memorials and street names. It presents ten case studies and discusses their significance, interpretations and possible remedies – placarding, resignification and repurposing, to relocation, removal, or destruction. Iconic examples are disputes over Christopher Columbus, Edward Colston, Robert E Lee, and Cecil Rhodes, among others.

‘Contested Histories’ is a project developed by EuroClio’s research centre Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation in order to tackle these issues and offer a resolution to such controversies. As of February 2021, the project has identified more than 230 cases of contested histories in public spaces.

The registration for the webinar and other details can be found on on the IBA website.

Annual Conference: Marketplace on Contested Cultural Heritage

Alicia Rijlaarsdam Articles ,

“If you’re going to teach history, teach it all” (Paolo Ceccoli, EuroClio Ambassador)

During the final workshop of our Annual Conference, EuroClio ambassador Paolo Ceccoli shared this powerful quote. The goal of the Marketplace on Contested Cultural Heritage was twofold. On the one hand, participants learned about the research that EuroClio and the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation (IHJR) have been doing to study contested histories in public spaces. On the other hand, the marketplace was an opportunity for participants to reflect and share lessons learned during the Annual Conference.

Drawing on more than 230 case studies from Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Americas, the Contested Histories project seeks to identify underlying causes for disputes dealing with monuments, memorials, statues, street names and other physical markers of historical legacies in public spaces. The objective is to provide decision-makers, policy planners and educators with a set of case studies, best practices and guidelines for addressing historical contestation in an effective and responsible manner. As director Marie-Louise Jansen mentioned during her presentation: “Understanding root causes [of controversies] necessitates a multi-perspective approach”.

The conference focused on controversy and disagreement in the classroom. At the Marketplace, the different teaching strategies presented throughout the month of November were applied to examples of controversial cultural heritage within the local context of the participants. Cases from across Europe were discussed and compared; the difficulty of addressing colonialism in Spain, the centralised curricular system in Ukraine preventing multi-perspectivity, the tensions and polarisation in Croatian classrooms over identity and narratives of the recent past and the legal difficulties of contextualizing or removing  statues in Slovakia due to property rights are just a handful of examples mentioned by participants during the session. All participants could name an example of a contestation, either directly in their classrooms or in their countries’ public spaces.

While the issues educators face are distinct, the themes are similar. Paolo Ceccoli mentioned: “the more our societies are divided, the more history teaching should teach controversial issues, it’s not easy, ... can even be dangerous, morally or even physically, but it’s absolutely needed”. The importance of contextualization was often emphasised as was the power of comparative studies. Another suggestion was the initial depersonalization of history – shifting personal feelings of guilt or blame that inflame emotions and prevent self-reflection – allowing for multiperspectivity. Another EuroClio expert Benny Christensen put a recommendation very simply: “[When dealing with controversial histories], apply the three D’s: Discuss, Debate, Dialogue”.

Interested in a concrete example of how to teach about controversial cultural heritage? The Rhodes Must Fall Oxford content on Historiana offers a great introduction.

Call for images: photographs documenting disputes are central to our research and the team is often constrained by images that are copyrighted. If you have an image of a contested monument, street name, statue or other physical representation of historical legacies in public spaces, please share them with us! Appropriate credits will be given.

For more information and to share images, email info@ihjr.org.

New Contested Histories research collaboration sparks a call for more

Grace Sahota Project Updates

This article was triggered by a new collaboration between the Contested Histories Initiative and students in ‘Narratives of the Past’ from France. Contested Histories is a multi-year project designed to identify principles, processes and best practices for addressing these contestations at the community or municipal level and in the classroom. As of September 2020, the project has identified more than 200 cases around the world with research conducted on more than 120 cases. Each case is catalogued in a database and added to a digital map. The long-term goal is to complete in-depth research on each case for review by experts, and create an online platform as a resource for a wide range of stakeholders.

Without research trainees and interns this feat would not be possible; collaborations with bright, motivated and dedicated students are the heart of the project. Research trainees come to the project from EuroClio’s traineeship programme, while research interns join us from associated universities. In addition, we welcome select independent researchers as interns and professional volunteers. 

Which research organisations are involved? 

Contested Histories (CH) is associated with a number of higher education institutions, namely Harvard University, University of Oxford and Erasmus University Rotterdam. Since 2017, more than 70 students--local and international--have taken on a research internship with CH and in doing so have made valuable contributions to the project. In December, we are welcoming an additional 22 students from the University of Oxford. This collaboration is integral to our project. Thanks to these engaged and bright young scholars, the project has grown enormously and has benefited from the various perspectives they bring. The diverse academic and personal backgrounds of research interns, as well as their language capabilities, are invaluable to our multidimensional and interdisciplinary approach to case study research and global mapping of cases. 

What are our researchers working on? 

Interns and the Contested Histories team participate in peer-review of completed cases, revising and updating where necessary, before a case is flagged for extended research and external review by experts in the given field. Several case studies have been published on EuroClio’s website. Launching the series of in-depth case studies in Spring 2020 was the Legacy of Cecil Rhodes at Oxford, written by Lucas Tse. At the time of writing, Lucas, a Rhodes scholar, was pursuing a Master's of Philosophy in Economic and Social History at the University of Oxford and is currently reading for a Doctorate in the same subject, also at Oxford. Additionally, the Legacy of Sir Stamford Raffles in Singapore, written by Wan Yii Lee, was published in Summer 2020. Wan Yii Lee is a candidate for the Master's of Philosophy in Development at the University of Oxford. Since completing her research internship with Contested Histories, she has been combing through archives and tracking local building histories in Singapore for her thesis on the politics of the built environment during the development of the nation-state. She's excited to start the second and final year of the MPhil soon, during which she will be taking more courses on development economics and the politics of global health in Africa. Most recently, the case study on a Statue of Robert Towns in Queensland, Australia by Sebastian Rees, a recent Master's of Philosophy graduate in Global History, has been published.

Why get involved with the project? 

Joining the team of an international organisation presents a unique opportunity for young researchers. As an intern or trainee you will become part of a passionate and international team of a fast-growing initiative and receive individual support. Not only will you have the opportunity to build up your research portfolio, CV, and network, but you will also have relative freedom to choose topics or regions that are of personal or academic interest to you,  As a global study the scope is vast, giving you the added option of exploring new interests--ranging from legacies of Japanese imperialism to toppled confederate monuments in the United States--with original research and editing tasks. Additionally, we offer an online work environment with flexible hours, ideal for gaining experience while adhering to coronavirus restrictions.  

What do the interns have to say about their experience? 

A conversation with Pierce, co-author of the upcoming case study on murals in Belfast. 

What was your favorite aspect of your research internship with Contested Histories?

My favourite aspect of the research internship with Contested Histories was the freedom and trust given to us as budding researchers to explore pressing and sensitive topics. The atmosphere was hugely supportive, resulting in case studies that will hopefully give more exposure to these struggles around the world, and, moving forward, perhaps offer a more robust and nuanced framework as to how they may be handled. 

How has your experience helped your professional development? 

The experience has been highly beneficial to my professional development. Not only has it increased my confidence in my own writing and researching abilities, I also had the pleasure of meeting a network of energetic researchers and history professionals from whom I learned a lot.

How do you feel about getting your case study published?

It’s really an honour to have a case study published, particularly one so close to home for me. I’m very pleased to share the Belfast Murals case. As with every example of Contested History, it has its own unique set of circumstances, but it also concerns issues of history, sectarianism, economics and creativity that I believe are relevant to many other cases. I owe a lot to EuroClio, the IHJR and to Luke, the contributing author, who updated the piece.

Would you recommend doing an internship with Contested Histories? If so, why?

I would absolutely recommend an internship with Contested Histories. As we can see, these issues are not going away quietly, so to feel like you are contributing in some small way to how they may be handled constructively in the future is highly rewarding. In addition, the opportunity to work with a great team in a forward-thinking and thought-provoking environment was an invaluable learning experience.

Staying involved as a professional volunteer

Some students remain dedicated to the project even after their traineeship or internship has ended and continue as professional volunteers. 

“Whether in the context of the West reckoning with its colonial past or former Soviet states reconciling antagonistic historical narratives to recover or reaffirm their own distinct identities, history has increasingly served as a flashpoint for conflict over the past three decades. I chose to continue working on Contested Histories as I believe its contribution to the field of memory and security studies is invaluable and will shape dialogue around information warfare and geopolitical conflict in years to come. The project is driven by a dedicated team of internationally-based researchers who push me to challenge assumptions, continuously learn, and refine my skill set. It goes without saying – I couldn’t ask for better colleagues.” - Katria

My research internship with IHJR solidified my professional interest in historical memory and gave me the practical experience necessary to write my undergraduate thesis and pursue research positions in the field. I returned as a professional volunteer because of the supportive team and the opportunity to raise awareness about this relevant topic.” - Miranda

The passion and energy that display is truly humbling to our organisation, we are excited to see more and more people raising awareness about the complexities and consequences of public memory. 

Interested in joining the team? 

Are you a research organisation or university looking for new opportunities?

Are you a student or recent graduate with an eye on a future in research or an independent researcher looking for a new project? 

Then Contested Histories may be the perfect project for you. 

Internship applicants must: 

  • Be in the final stages of their undergraduate degree or be enrolled in a Master’s of PhD programme with outstanding academic achievement, preferably in the area of history, international relations, or related fields
  • Proven research and academic English writing and/or editing skills
  • Fluency in English, additional language comprehension is a plus
  • Willingness to commit a minimum of 5 hours per week for at least 3 months
  • Willingness to join virtual weekly team meetings
  • Some knowledge of WordPress and database management is an asset, not a must

Submit your CV, letter of motivation and names of 2 references to info@ihjr.org. Indicate also your availability to start, desired hours and duration of internship. 

Interested research organisations or universities should email info@ihjr.org for further information.

Contested Histories: Robert Towns’ Statue and his Blackbirding Legacy

Grace Sahota Articles ,

We are pleased to present the case on a statue of Robert Towns in Townsville, Australia, as part of a series of in-depth studies for the Contested Histories Initiative. We hope that this series will provide insights and lessons learned for engaging with and addressing instances of disputed historical legacies in public spaces. This case comes amid global debate on historical statues and monuments, related to and inspired by this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, and calls for a reckoning of Australia’s colonial history.

Townsville, in north Queensland, is home to a life-sized statue of its namesake Robert Towns. Unlike many of the cases catalogued by Contested Histories, this statue was erected in recent history--in 2004--with funds from the local council, in spite of instant controversy. Towns was a merchant entrepreneur and ‘blackbirder’, whose ship ‘Don Juan’ brought one of the earliest shiploads of South Sea Islanders from present-day Vanuatu to labour on his Queensland properties in 1863.

 

What is ‘blackbirding’?

‘Blackbirding’ refers to the kidnapping or luring of South Sea Islanders, mostly from Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, but it also included ‘recruiting’ from parts of New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, Kiribati and Fiji. Blackbirding occurred from 1863 until the early 1900s and saw more than 62,000 South Sea Islanders transported to Australia for labour in pastoral, sugar and maritime industries. 

There exists debate as to whether blackbirding can be likened to enslavement, and the (il)legality of the process by which South Sea Islanders were recruited for indentured labour. The Australian South Sea Islanders organisation (ASSI) notes that the degree of choice in recruitment does not negate the reality of exploitation, nor is the distinction between kidnapping and choice so simple. Professor Clive Moore, a leading researcher on South Sea Islander history at the University of Queensland, coined the term ‘cultural kidnapping’ to refer to the exploitation that many Islanders unknowingly signed up for. According to Moore, "whether you call them slaves or not, they [blackbirded Islanders] definitely worked in slave-like conditions. It was often horrific." 

 

Still standing

The statue of Towns remains despite controversy. While there have been calls for its removal, Emelda Davis, president of ASSI, argues instead that “there needs to be a greater understanding, a broader discussion”, that “the full truth needs to be told”. Removal, which has the potential to become erasure, is often a quick-fix which leaves the underlying cause of the dispute unconsidered and unresolved. In the case of Towns, simply removing his statue risks burying the legacy of his involvement in blackbirding. 

Engagement in discussion and the notion of ‘full truth’ is central to the work of Contested Histories. Contextualising disputed historical sites can balance and/or resignify narratives concerning historical figures and events to present multiple perspectives, including those that have been and perhaps remain enduringly under-represented, marginalised and oppressed. Moreover, additive elements can act as a means through which uncomfortable histories can be reflected upon and worked through for deeper, more nuanced understandings of the past and present. It is here that the educative potential of public spaces shines through, potential which may have otherwise been lost with hasty removal. 

For Towns, who signifies the white settler majority in Australia, the installation of a counter monument may present an effective remedy. The creation of a counter monument offers opportunities for dialogue, reflection and learning; a means to decentre the colonising gaze of Robert Towns and address intergenerational trauma from blackbirding. 

 

Image by denisbin titled “Statue of Robert Towns in central Townsville. The man after whom the city was named.” CC BY-NA 2.0.

 

Further readings

https://theconversation.com/australias-hidden-history-of-slavery-the-government-divides-to-conquer-86140  

http://www.assipj.com.au/southsea/wp-content/uploads/docs/02_blackbirding_kidnapping_and_slavery.pdf 

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/aug/24/full-truth-needs-to-be-told-descendants-of-blackbirded-south-sea-islanders-want-memorials-amended

 

Drawing on more than 160 case studies from Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, the Contested Histories project seeks to identify underlying causes for disputes dealing with monuments, memorials, statues, street names, building names and other physical markers of historical legacies. The aim is to distil "best practices" for decision-makers, policy advisors, civil society activists, scholars and other stakeholders faced with similar disputes in their communities or societies. The case studies will also inform the development of educational resources that address disputed historical legacies and highlight the complexity of historical memory. 

Call for images: photographs documenting disputes are central to our research and the team is often constrained by images that are copyrighted. If you have an image of a contested monument, street name, statue or other physical representation of historical legacies in public spaces, please share them with us! Appropriate credits will be given.

For more information and to share images, email info@ihjr.org.