skip to content

Cambridge Heritage Research Centre

The summer 2020 debate on how Britain commemorates its past

Demands to remove or amend monuments are nothing new. However, the events of Summer 2020 were unprecedented in their 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. This summer, however, saw the debate galvanise the nation as a whole, dominating newsfeeds and trending on social media platforms.

The database has been created in the belief that by capturing as much of the debate as possible we could produce a valuable archive for future researchers, policy makers, heritage professionals and activists. We offer the data presented here in the belief that there is much to be learnt from the Summer of 2020.

We gathered data over a period of three months from June to September. Our focus was twofold: i) the public debate and public actions, as well as the role of advocacy groups; and ii) how core institutions formulated their responses. Our methodology was to record the debate in the media and on social media, drawing on sources from across the political spectrum. We also conducted a series of in-depth interviews speaking to representatives of intuitions which had been implicated in the debate as well as activists who were advocating for change. 


Download the interviews by clicking on the names:

Adam McVey
Leader, Edinburgh Council


Aleema Gray
Community History Curator,
Museum of London


Daniel Martin
Head of Collections Services,
Royal Museums Greenwich


Ehtasham Haque
Tower Hamlets Council,


Emily Gee
Regional Director for London and Southeast, Historic England


Geoff Palmer
Public Figure, Professor Emeritus and Activist


Katie Finnegan-Clarke
Countering Colston


Madge Dresser
Honorary Professor,
Bristol University


Nick Merriman
Director, Horniman Museum and Gardens


Ray Barnett
Head of Collections and Archives, 
Bristol City Council's Culture and Creative Industries


Sarah Robertson
Communications and Special Projects, Director Colston Hall


Tate Greenhalgh
National Interpretation Specialist, National Trust


Rhodes must fall in Oxford




Social media debate

Youtube Reddit  Twitter

Youtube videos with more than 12 million views featuring the Colston and Churchill statue debates created after June 2020 were parsed for comments with the help of Coberry software. It resulted in 300000 comments available in CVS format.

Download the data in CVS format as a .zip file.

This is a comprehensive record of the threads which were interacted with on Reddit. Only those thread which had at least 10 comments were recorded in order to focus on threads where there was substantial discussion. This leaves 190 discussion threads, representing a wide spectrum of opinions.

Threads were located using the search function on Reddit and the search terms below. The praw Python package was used to extract the submission title, permalink, text, linked url, date created, number of comments, and the content of the comments. On some particularly long comment chains the code has to request ‘more comments’ repeatedly, for reasons of speed this was limited to 300 such requests. For this and the deletion of some comments, there is a slight difference between the number of comments a submission says it has and the number that we have collected; this only occurred for those with a very large amount of comments and we can be confident that we have a representative sample of comments for those discussions.

Search terms used on Reddit:

  • Edward Colston
  • Churchill statue
  • Baden-Powell
  • Topple the Racists
  • Cenotaph
  • Robert Milligan
  • Bomber Harris
  • Robert Peel

(As the last three search terms did not return more than one or two relevant threads the decision was made not to continue searches for all the statues that have been discussed elsewhere in the database)

Download the Reddit debate mentioning the UK statue removals in xls format as a .zip file:

The project followed the Twitter coverage of the erection of the statue of Jen Reid by Marc Quinn. We conducted the searches in the Command Prompt using the twarc Python package to access the Twitter API. The data is currently stored in JSON format, and can be converted to easily readable CSV format. The files are saved as supplied by Twitter, and with the retweets removed- File names also give the date of the search.

Using the free version of the Twitter API which allows access to the previous 7 days, we also have some other coverage, as detailed in the table below.

Search Term

Coverage from

Coverage until

Num. of Tweets

(excl. retweets)


6th July

30th July



30th June

30th July


“Jen Reid”

15th July

30th July


“Marc Quinn”

15th July

30th July


Download the Twitter debate mentioning the UK statue removals in JSON and CVS format as a .zip file:

Have a look at the data in the table:

Media research

We focused on gathering a fairly comprehensive 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.

Find here the links to the articles written about the summer 2020 debate on how Britain commemorates its past: