Should We Remove Monuments of Unpopular Historical Figures?

There has been a lot of debate recently around the presence of the confederate flag at various government buildings along with war memorials to Confederate figures. Below are a couple of recent articles on the topic. These raise issues about how we should treat the past through these memorials and whether we should remove or edit them once the figures, or the ideas they represent, become unpopular.

Confederacy: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

“Confederate symbols are still celebrated despite the ugly history they symbolize. John Oliver suggests some representations of southern pride that involve less racism and more Stephen Colbert.”

Baltimore City commission recommends removal of two Confederate monuments

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-md-ci-confederate-monuments-20160114-story.html

New Orleans votes to remove Confederate, Civil War monuments

http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/17/us/new-orleans-confederate-monuments-vote/

Richmond mayor vows to confront tributes to Southern Civil War figures

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/in-the-former-capital-of-the-confederacy-a-new-path-forward-on-monuments/2017/06/22/3133e044-56c3-11e7-a204-ad706461fa4f_story.html?utm_term=.2a1d409eff8b&wpisrc=nl_draw2&wpmm=1

In England, a similar debate is happening over a statue of Cecil Rhodes.

  1. ‘Black lives are cheap at Oxford’: Furor follows decision to keep Cecil Rhodes statue

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2016/01/29/black-lives-are-cheap-at-oxford-furor-follows-decision-to-keep-cecil-rhodes-statue/?mc_cid=84d899c964&mc_eid=34e2887073
  2. Over one third of Oxford students want Cecil Rhodes statue removedhttp://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/jan/15/oxford-students-cecil-rhodes-statue-removed?mc_cid=84d899c964&mc_eid=34e2887073
  3. Removing visual reminders of unsavoury history is not the best way to confront the past.http://www.historytoday.com/rupert-fitzsimmons/rhodes-must-not-fall?mc_cid=84d899c964&mc_eid=34e2887073

New York City Just Removed a Statue of Surgeon J. Marion Sims From Central Park. Here’s Why

“With Sims, the controversy is not about the merits of his medical achievements, but how he accomplished them. Though Sims founded New York’s first women’s hospital and innovated new surgical techniques, his success came at the cost of unethical medical treatment of enslaved women in the antebellum era.”

http://time.com/5243443/nyc-statue-marion-sims/

Podcast: The Falling of the Lenins

“The same protests that brought down that Lenin statue eventually brought about a new government in Ukraine, which sought to eliminate all physical reminders of communism and Russia.  But it hasn’t been easy, logistically or politically, because removing these things erases history that is still important to some Ukrainians. Furthermore, communist symbols are very pervasive in the built environment — they can be found on buildings, bridges and other infrastructure.”

http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/the-falling-of-the-lenins/

Other Posts on this topic

https://toktopics.com/tag/monuments/

 

Good riddance: Americans need to set aside icons like Robert E. Lee to live up to our potential.

Knowledge Questions: What is the role of historical monuments in learning history?  What is the role of history in society? How does history change over time?

screen shot 2019-01-06 at 5.33.17 pmWhen we choose how we view history, we risk mythologizing events and people, reducing them to two-dimensional stories. It takes nothing away from Abraham Lincoln’s heroic stewardship of our nation through the Civil War, for instance, to admit that he was still a creature of his era. For most of his career, he saw slaves as rival laborers for white wage-workers and thought they should go back to Africa. Frustratingly, our instinct to sanitize history ensures that we are always looking backward for our better angels, struggling to meet a standard that remains forever out of reach.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2018/11/21/feature/good-riddance-americans-need-to-aside-icons-like-robert-e-lee-to-live-up-to-our-potential/?utm_term=.2d7c7ab31918

See other posts related to this one about historical monuments

A 124-year-old statue reviled by Native Americans – and how it came down

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Art is in the eye of the community
So if the statue doesn’t provide an accurate idea of history, is it valid as a piece of public art? Jeff Hou, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Washington, says no. He says the public realm is accountable to one audience – the public.

“In the public realm, works of arts and design are subject to the public process. In other words, the public can have a say in what’s appropriate in a public space in a democracy,” he told me.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/sep/24/early-days-statue-removed-san-francisco-native-americans

Americans need to know all our history: the good, the bad and the complex

“An ignorance of history can prove fatal for any country. A narrow understanding that only reinforces biases and supports political factions is not much better. Americans need to know the entire story of who we have been — the good, the bad and the complex. That is how we perfect our union. That is how we make one nation from many.”

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/topoftheticket/la-na-tt-american-history-20170704-story.html

Monuments or Memorials? “The Meaning of Our Confederate ‘Monuments’”

Interesting discussion on the difference between “monuments” and “memorials” and how that distinction plays out with the contemporary controversy around the removal of Confederate Civil War statues.

“The debate around these monuments — Should they be destroyed, maintained or removed elsewhere? — has been heated and, I believe, misguided. We should be asking other questions instead: Are these statues really “monuments” by our present standards? Or are they rather “memorials”? Are we misled by the avenue’s name? Do we need to rename the avenue itself as we attempt to remedy our deferred maintenance of history?”

Britain’s view of its history ‘dangerous’, says former museum director

What is the purpose of learning history? How can different nations use their history to accomplish different goals? What are the consequences of telling history in a one sided way, self promoting way?

This article helps us contrast the distinct views Great Britain and Germany have taken toward viewing their own histories. Is one superior to the other? How would we measure success in this regard? Should countries use history to promote patriotism?

“Neil MacGregor, the former director of the British Museum, has bemoaned Britain’s narrow view of its own history, calling it “dangerous and regrettable” for focusing almost exclusively on the “sunny side”.”

“Speaking before the Berlin opening of his highly popular exhibition Germany – Memories of a Nation, MacGregor expressed his admiration for Germany’s rigorous appraisal of its history which he said could not be more different to that of Britain.

“In Britain we use our history in order to comfort us to make us feel stronger, to remind ourselves that we were always, always deep down, good people,” he said. “Maybe we mention a little bit of slave trade here and there, a few wars here and there, but the chapters we insist on are the sunny ones,” he said.”

“He said Germans had given expression to their the worst chapter of their history in extensive memorials and Mahnmale (‘monuments to national shame’). “It’s telling that in English we don’t even have a word like ‘Mahnmal’,” he said. “The term is just too alien to us.””

https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2016/oct/07/britains-view-of-its-history-dangerous-says-former-museum-director?utm_source=Premium+TOK+newsletter+subscribers&utm_campaign=7cdac1f063-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2016_11_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_f031581d64-7cdac1f063-98485421&mc_cid=7cdac1f063&mc_eid=34e2887073