I have been working with Poppy Szaybo on creating schools resources and some case studies for the fantastic Immortalised project for Historic England. Immortalised is a season of activity to explore how, why and who England remembers in its streets, buildings and spaces.

There are more statues of men called John than there are of real, non-royal women and the number of statues to those from minority groups is embarrassingly small. The project looks at the changing memorial landscape and how some of our once revered public figures have become symbols of difficult histories. Who has been left out, who should perhaps be contextualised.

The project aims to explore and raise questions such as:

  • Who gets to be Immortalised, and who has been unfairly overlooked?
  • What is being done to remember marginalised figures and communities today?
  • What happens once the initial impulse to remember has faded, or the person being commemorated comes to be seen in a different light?
  • How should we engage with problematic traces of the past, or reminders of episodes from history that we may no longer wish to celebrate?
  • What form should public memory and commemoration take in the future, and what alternatives might there be to building ever greater numbers of monuments?
Historic England was accused of pandering to the “snowflake” generation after suggesting Nelson’s Column should be destroyed. The facts were that they had run an event where they used Nelson’s Column as an example of contested history to open up the debate around memorials in the public sphere, not to suggest the statue should be destroyed.

This project by Historic England, comes at a time when there have been some high profile debates over statues and memorials that represent contested histories in our society. The fervour, anger and passion surrounding the call to remove the confederate statues in southern states in America to the call to remove the statue of slave trader Edward Colston and the recent backlash Historic England faced when using Nelson’s column as a starting point for debate. The debate about how and who we commemorate from the past is not just a matter for history, but a very real contemporary issue.

I’m really looking forward to working in partnership with Poppy on this and many future projects.

Statue of Alan Mathison Turing in Sackville Park, Manchester. Unveiled in 2001 a plaque at the statue’s feet says “Father of computer science, mathematician, logician, wartime code breaker, victim of prejudice”.
A memorial to Sheffield’s Women of Steel. The women worked in the steelworks to keep production going during World War II when the men went off to war.

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