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The summer 2020 debate on how Britain commemorates its past

The summer 2020 debate on how Britain commemorates its past
 Database

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. Or 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. 

Interviews

Download the interviews by clicking on the names:

Adam McVey
Leader, Edinburgh Council
13.08.2020

Aleema Gray
Community History Curator,
Museum of London
27.07.2020

Daniel Martin
Head of Collections Services,
Royal Museums Greenwich
27.07.2020

Ehtasham Haque
Tower Hamlets Council,
12.08.2020
Emily Gee
Regional Director for London and Southwest,
Historic England
05.08.2020
Geoff Palmer
01.09.2020
Katie Finnegan-Clarke
Countering Colston
24.07.2020
Madge Dresser
Honorary Professor,
Bristol University
07.09.2020
Nick Merriman
Director, Horniman Museum and Gardens
20.07.2020
Roy Barnett
Head of Collections and Archives, 
Bristol City Council's Culture and Creative Industries.
24.07.2020
Sarah Robertson
Communications and Special Projects, Director Colston Hall
27-07-2020
Tate Greenhalgh
National Interpretation Specialist,
National Trust
24.09.2020
Rhodes must fall in Oxford
07.08.2020

 

Analyse the interviews with the help of Voyant-tool:

 

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. We only recorded those which had at least 10 comments, in order to focus on threads where there was an actual discussion. This leaves us with 190 discussion threads, representing a wide spectrum of opinions.

These were located using the search function on Reddit and the search terms below. I then used the praw Python package 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 were not returning more than one or two relevant threads I didn’t continue to search for all the statues that have been discussed)

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)

“Colston”

6th July

30th July

18103

“#BlackLivesMatterUK”

30th June

30th July

8801

“Jen Reid”

15th July

30th July

5477

“Marc Quinn”

15th July

30th July

2758


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 have 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

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

Analyse the media coverage with the help of Voyant-tools: