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UK Statues Recording Project

Recording Decisions and Actions connected with Claims for the Removal/Protection of Statues

in UK Civic Spaces during the Summer of 2020 

 

Demands to remove or amend monuments are nothing new. However, the current movement is unprecedented in its scale and level of public involvement. Previous discussions over the fate of statues in civic spaces tended to be localised, often confined to specialist committee meetings. The events of recent weeks, however, have seen the debate galvanise the nation as a whole, dominating newsfeeds and trending on social media platforms. In this process, a historicist urban topography is being rejected, and in its place bottom-up grassroots views on the usage and meanings of heritage are being formulated. Capturing this process will provide an invaluable archive through which we can better understand the role which heritage plays in social movements. Ultimately this understanding will offer us the potential to develop policies which align heritage more closely with our collective well-being.

 

The empty pedestal of the statue of Edward Colton in Bristol

The empty pedestal of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol by Caitlin Hobbs / CC-BY 3.0

Project Overview

In response, the Cambridge Heritage Research Centre (CHRC) is conducting a six-week recording project. We will focus on two dimensions of the on-going debate: i) the public debate and public actions, as well as the role of advocacy groups; and ii) how core institutions are formulating their responses. We aim to record how the rhetoric develops (if it does), what factors affect the rhetoric (i.e. is it responding to critique from grassroots movements, from politicians or from various spokespersons), and how different statues are drawn into the claims (who instigates this and why). The core institutions interviewed will be grouped into national institutions, museums with collections or roles that pertain to the history of slavery, and civic organisations.

 

Project Update - Monday 13 July 2020

Over the past two weeks we've been focusing on gathering a complete record of the statue debate in four mainstream newspapers – The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail and The Mirror. Since the fall of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol, these papers have published more than 480 articles, totalling nearly 600,000 words. The Daily Mail has been the most vocal, publishing more than 180 articles! This record provides a great insight into the kinds of narrative which people encounter about taking down statues; a quick look at the most common words used already starts to reveal some interesting trends.

Statues Project Graph 1

We are also starting to get in touch with institutions and organisations for the second half of the project: recording their responses to recent events. Obviously, we won’t have time to contact everyone who is making these kind of decisions, so we’re focusing on a selection of interesting ‘case studies’ from across Britain which have been appearing in the newspaper articles, and which seem representative of the wider situation. If you have any interesting leads, or if you see a great article outside of the four papers we’re focusing on, please feel free to !

Statues Project Word Cloud 1

 

Project Update - Monday 27 July 2020

Over the last couple of weeks, the media debate about statues in the UK has slowly started to quieten down. After the initial excitement, it seems that the newspapers have largely moved on to other things. Even the controversial arrival of the statue of Jen Reid in on the plinth vacated by Colston in Bristol couldn’t reignite the debate much (see image).

Outside of the media, though, the debate is only just getting started, and we’ve been talking to various people to get their take. So far, we've spoken to museums in London, local government in Bristol and the campaigning organisation Countering Colston (https://counteringcolston.wordpress.com). This week and next week, we'll be speaking to institutions and organisations in Oxford and Edinburgh as well as the National Trust and Historic England. The people we've interviewed have given us detailed and carefully thought through answers. They've also often been admirably frank in their reflections on the issues which have been brought to the fore by the Black Lives Matter Movement and the pulling down of Edward Colston's statue. We're certainly grateful to those who've taken the time to engage with our research and we're looking forward to the conversations which have yet to come!

 Statues Project Graph 2

Project Update - Tuesday 1 September 2020

We are coming to the end of the project with only a couple more weeks to go. For the past month we've been mainly concentrating on interviews, and so far we've transcribed nearly 35,000 words from these. Each interview transcription will go on our open access archive once the project is completed. The people we've interviewed tend to be speaking on behalf of their institution or organisation, but we have also spoken to people who have become involved in the debate in their capacity as individual activists. We've looked across the country for people to interview, but we've also focused on three case studies: the commemoration of Edward Colston in Bristol, the removal of the statue of Robert Milligan in London and the proposed plaque to accompany the Melville Monument in Edinburgh. Across the board the variety of insights offered by our interviewees has been really enlightening and we'd like to thank them again for taking the time to speak to us.

 

Project Results

The results will be made open access at the end of the project through the University of Cambridge Data Repository and through links on the Cambridge Heritage Research Centre Website. 

 

Project Team

Project Leaders: Prof Marie Louise Stig Soresnen, Dr Dacia Viejo Rose and Dr Liliana Janik

Project Research Assistants: Dr Mark Haughton, Tom Crowley and Andrea Kocsis

Project Administrator: Ben Davenport

 

Funding 

The Cambridge Heritage Research Centre is grateful to the Arts & Humanities Impact Fund, Vice-Chancellor Office and the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research for the generous support that has made this project possible.