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Thursday, September 27, 2018

Who should we commemorate?

Who should we commemorate? - History Extra

"Speaking as a historian, what worries me in a case like this, is the destruction of very important evidence from the past. We wouldn't go into an archive and rip up the letters of a leading historical figure and I think one has to be very careful that one doesn't destroy the built fabric and do a similar kind of violence. So if you ask me as a historian, Rhodes’s statue is part of the historic fabric. It's a piece of historical evidence and I think it has to stay...

It's often authoritarian or totalitarian regimes that set about changing history and removing names or changing names. And I think that anyone growing up in a liberal democracy would be rather nervous or chary about going down that kind of route where somebody is no longer considered to be ideologically sound or acceptable and suddenly they disappear from history. There are some very painful echoes of that in 20th century history, and I think we would be very careful about going down that route...

Once you've taken the statue down or you've changed the name, then that person and the complex deeds that they may have been involved with are almost lost to history...

I think you'd be hard put to find anyone - probably anyone on the planet, who doesn't have a debit side to as it were balance against the credit side.

Almost by definition any great political leader, any great statesperson, any great cultural figure will have done things that can easily be used on the debit side and all those figures that you mentioned, in their ways, in different perspectives, from the perspective of different people - Cromwell appears to the English rather different than he appears to the Irish for example.

So it's always going to be a balance, and I think that's what we have to take into account. The danger, I think, in taking offence against monuments, in pulling them down, is that we then present history as a kind of moral pageant.

The only people we're going to remember are those who are wholly good, wholly on the right side, and that runs not only against the nature of history but also the nature of our own moral lives on a day-to-day basis, because we know that no one is perfect. And that if we're going to be accurate, not only to the past, but the present, we need to reflect all sides of a personality...

‘There was a campaign by present donors to Oriel college in Oxford saying, we may stop funding this college if you take down a statue of Rhodes because they’re then worried how future generations might potentially judge them’...

‘We give in good faith and we expect the institution to respect our gift in good faith. If you behave in this way toward Cecil Rhodes, that's in our view bad faith. And we would worry about what would happen to our gifts in the future. You can expand that, I think, to dealings with almost any institution, any charity... History is a very fickle beast... I'm not sure that we would be able to guess what the world might look like in 50 or 100 years’...

‘I think it's not so much about the future as the present, so that what this business, these interesting debates, these controversies perhaps point to is thinking more seriously in the here and now, about what we're doing. Then at least we could say to those who come after us, we thought carefully, we made a considered decision. This is reflective of the values and the views of our contemporaries. Meddle with it at your peril. At least we would pass on to the future a clear view of what we thought at this stage. The argument perhaps about monuments from the past is that they were not democratically arrived at. Nobody, as it were, consulted a wide range of people. They were often the enthusiasms of individuals or particular institutions.’"
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