OTTAWA — The minister responsible for Parks Canada says tearing down statues is not the solution when it comes to addressing the darker side of Canadian history. To pretend otherwise is actually erasing history more than mothballing a statue or changing a name would be. Registration on or use of this site constitutes acceptance of our User Agreement, Privacy Policy and Cookie Statement, and Your California Privacy Rights (each updated 1/1/21). None of this is anything new. ‘Statues are not history’: considering the removal of Sir John A. Macdonald Click to return to homepage. All rights reserved (About Us). Shutting down classrooms, because teachers have the unparalleled ability to help students learn about and explore the past. Is removing a statue erasing history? We are turning away from those people on those pedestals -- and what they represent -- as models to be admired and fondly remembered. Destroying archives, because they are full of those primary sources that help us understand the past: letters, diaries, manuscripts, newspaper accounts, all the things that captured the experiences of eyewitnesses and transmit that information to us today. They bear little information content for you. Removing a statue — or putting one up in the first place — signals which values our culture … It’s about who the society as a whole wants to venerate and honor in public places. Removing Statues, Erasing History Doesn't Cure Racism Police stand watch near the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in the center of Emancipation Park the day after the Unite the Right rally devolved into violence August 13, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia. Recall that 60 years ago a black person could not sit at a lunch counter, vote or marry a white person. “Removing a statue is not going to change how people feel,” he said. We remember things through so many more methods than statues, which are designed to honor their subjects. As a Southerner, I am steeped in William Faulkner’s bitingly accurate phrase, “The past is never dead. People gather at the Robert E. Lee Monument, now covered by protest graffiti, in Richmond, Va., earlier this month. No, Removing Monuments Isn’t ‘Erasing History’ by Crystal Marie. Putting up or taking down statues is not about which history you want to remember. My hunch is: not much. Meanwhile, the same folks who cry that taking down monuments to Civil War generals erases history also complain that doing so blames today’s white Southerners for the sins of slavery. Removing monuments from the public square is pulling it out of the public eye and trying to reduce its significance and recognition. 5 min read. This isn’t a matter of not erecting new statues, this is … Whatever the personal qualities of Raphael Semmes and Robert E. Lee (whose statues have been removed in Mobile and New Orleans) or Edward Colston, whose statue was removed in Bristol, England, the fact remains that those men supported a system that favored slavery. Closing museums, because the artifacts they preserve are material evidence of the past, the things people created and used and found important or commonplace. It’s a way to honor the people whose families these figures fought to enslave; it’s a way to put a kinder foot forward and refuse to uplift figures who represent little more than racism, violence, and treason. Watch a Hurricane Harvey Survivor Find Out His Dad Survived the Storm . ( “Well,” one meme seems to shout, “that’s like blaming a little Japanese child for Pearl Harbor.”). It calls us to examine it. Note to readers: if you purchase something through one of our affiliate links we may earn a commission. (Tim Bradbury / Getty Images) No. There are and have been many routes to damnatio memoriae, including the destruction of depictions, the removal of names from inscriptions and documents, and even large-scale rewritings of history. It has been enhanced with graffiti over the past few weeks, turning it into a symbol of protest. Our statues are monuments of the state of our democracy as much as they honor our beloved. When we consider history and cherish the notion of the past and venerate those who have “always” been our heroes, we all should consider some facts. And we look at the places and landscapes where, and artifacts with which, events happened. As protesters and public officials remove statues and memorials to conquerors, oppressors, enslavers and murderers, people like King Leopold II of Belgium, Cecil Rhodes, Robert E. … Our willingness to take down racist traitors also signifies. “Those who seek to erase our heritage want Americans to forget our pride and our great dignity, so that we can no longer understand ourselves or America’s destiny,” President Trump said during his July 3 address at the foot of Mount Rushmore. To quote John Oliver, “Monuments are not how we record history—books are, museums are, Ken Burns’ 12-part miniseries are. The Interesting History of Vaseline (aka Petroleum Jelly), Lessons from the Civil War still need to be learned, When flesh and blood meet bronze and marble. The statues themselves don’t tell us much at all. Would Sir like a seat for the car as well? Why, then, is removing Confederate monuments or striking Confederate names from military installations not erasing history, too? The police killing of George Floyd sparked widespread protests and reignited efforts across the U.S. to remove Confederate and other statues viewed as symbols of slavery and racism. They might trigger an observer — the visitor of the statue or the student at the school — to delve more deeply into why the statue or the name is there. Ceasing to venerate them does not bid us to “forget” history. Which is to say, how do we “do” history? First, though, what is “history?” This is a large question and one that entire courses of study — and careers — are built on, but people generally use to the term to mean one of two things: A. It does something more important than that. The statues themselves don’t tell us much at all. J.D.M. Frances Coleman is a freelance writer who lives in Baldwin County, Alabama. Damnatio memoriae is a modern Latin phrase meaning "condemnation of memory", indicating that a person is to be excluded from official accounts. What did they do? The people who erected his statue were his heartbroken parents and family members. What monuments and names do do is provide a point of connection to the past. They provide us with information about the past that cannot be obtained in other ways. Chris argues that it's not "erasing history" to remove Confederate commemoration from public spaces. It makes us think about history. It is the difference between looking at a picture of water and drinking the water itself. Burning books, because there are no richer or more efficient sources for sharing historical material and the understanding of the past that their analysis permits. Gaze at a statue of Anastasia Dhan-Kampa — or better yet, park your car in front of Anastasia Dhan-Kampa Elementary School — and tell me what exactly you learn about Dhan-Kampa herself by looking at that statue or that school name. But statue removal is not “erasing history.” Of course, they have a history. … You can romanticize the idea of slavery, talk about how the happy slaves just loved your ancestors who held them in bondage, dress up in Confederate uniforms and decry the tragedy of the Lost Cause. A group of neo-Nazis who stormed the University of Virginia’s campus aimed to defend the statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, who led the traitorous army during the Civil War. The events of the pastB. History is, as the saying goes, “written by the winners.” The past is what we perceive it to be. But that is not the same thing as itself acting as a vehicle for historical information. To say this “erases history” is to miss the point. If you are my age, you knew people who knew people who had living memory of the Civil War. It’s not even past.”. Critics of its removal used a specious argument of erasing history to defend its presence. Share this: The Hechinger Report is a national nonprofit newsroom that reports on one topic: education. Are any monuments worth preserving? While the governor of Virginia initiated plans to remove the statue, saying that the “divisive monument” … People of the United Kingdom: the time has come for you to kill your darlings. A high-profile decision to tear down a famous bronze figure of … Were their acts and their lives really that bad (or that good)? But if you are ignorant about Anastasia Dhan-Kampa going into your encounter with her likeness or her name, then their removal, I would wager, would do little to affect your actual knowledge of her or of her life — because, on their own, they cannot teach you anything about her. History is how we see whom. Shuttering historic houses, because they provide insight on the daily environment in which historical actors moved. A favourite argument of those who oppose the removal of statues is that we must not erase history but instead learn from it. © 2021 Advance Local Media LLC. Erasing history, though, is a dangerous path because it means that the truth becomes something malleable that has been created instead of recorded. Some, however, worry that the removal of public monuments will equate to the erasure of our collective history. Why yes to founders but no to Confederates? The material on this site may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used, except with the prior written permission of Advance Local. To wit: Would the removal of [this thing] notably limit our ability to understand the history of [this event]? My father had a grandfather was a soldier in that conflict. In several cities, these tributes have been vandalized or torn down by protestors or removed by public officials. There have been several letters to the editor about removing or nor removing statues and monuments related to the Confederacy or to individuals who held racist views. As for whether removing statues is erasing history - in many ways it is. Quite a lot. We do, however, have to live in the aftermath. Removing statues like this is not about erasing history… Statues are coming down in Mobile, New Orleans and Richmond -- not to mention Bristol, England -- because the truth is, a lot of people in those cities don’t want to see people who supported slavery honored with public monuments. Stewart, a noted Canadian historian, labelled it a crime against history itself. Who if anybody does deserve such an honor, especially when everybody is flawed (because they’re people)? Now that chain is broken. Removing historical monuments sets a dangerous precedent that we would not want to see widely applied. Taking down statues is not erasing history. They are monuments placed in the late 1800s which usually depict a skinny teenager in a slouch hat, carrying a rifle. There is a subset of statues of Confederates whose statues I hope will continue to stand. At its core, we do it by examining original sources of information created during the events that we are studying: letters, diaries, manuscripts, newspaper articles, eyewitness accounts. Nonetheless, he believes that removing Confederate statues and memorials, often erected several decades after the Civil War is a way to … He said addressing these monuments isn't erasing history. Their suffering is not reenacted or glorified, but it is the ugly and unpleasant history of warfare. (May I propose a simple Test of Historical Erasure? No matter what war or political persuasion, we should always remember those who gave themselves up for a “rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.” Remember the dead teenagers. But their actions are bringing closer scrutiny on the figures these monuments celebrate — allowing history to be retold from the viewpoint of their victims. (A picture of water, after all, might make you want to learn more about water.) All of these things carry historic content the way a dipper carries water when we are thirsty. Read Next. Sign up for our weekly newsletters to get stories like this delivered directly to … The notions about that war which my father’s generation had were certainly colored by the memories of their grandparents. Article content. Removing any of them lessens our ability to tell and interpret the story of the past. “Always” last about two generations. He stands with his hand to his brow, scanning the horizon. Email her at fcoleman1953@gmail.com and “like” her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/prfrances. Removing Confederate and/or slave-holder monuments does not erase history; rather, these monuments reveal who our nation has lionized, and removing them helps inch America closer to being a nation that honestly addresses the cultural, economic, legal, and judicial effects of slavery. I believe there are places for them, such as in the battlefield or by museums, where they signify and have meaning in relation to the Paving over historic battlefields, because no amount of documentary evidence can substitute for an understanding of the landscape over which such historic events took place. That statue or that name are failing on their own to give you any sense of Dhan-Kampa’s life or the era in which she lived (well, the statue might provide a bit of a sense for the kinds of clothes that were worn when she was alive or even something of the amazing actions for which she is so justly famous). I wholeheartedly concur. I have heard family and friends say the same sorts of things — “I guess the protesters just want to erase history!” — their words a mix of defiance with an undercurrent of what I take to be legitimate puzzlement. To say this “erases history” is to miss the point. If yes, you may be concerned about erasure of history. … So if not as history itself, why do we create monuments and name all manner of things after historical people? A statue of Christopher Columbus is seen with its head removed at Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park on June 10, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. When I look at Semmes, Lee and Edward Colston, I see the ugly face of slavery looking back at me. Period. If no, it’s not erasure of history.). Barricading archaeological sites, because they are the places where the physical world of the past is literally unearthed and given its initial context. Those generations are dead, and with them any soft focus on what slavery was and did. Community Rules apply to all content you upload or otherwise submit to this site. To remove a statue in this day and age is not close to “erasing history,” it is a contemporary decision to stop certain things being honoured going forward. Removing the statutes reflects a sea change in who we, as a society, honor. It is the removal of (a certain kind of) connection to (a certain kind of) history, as I will mention below and try to address in my sequel post, but it’s not erasing history itself. Removing racist monuments is about making history, not erasing it We need to memorialize more statues of trailblazers such as physician Vivian Pinn by Andre Perry November 7, 2017 March 30, 2020. Vital Opinions by thevitalblog June 10, 2020 June 10, 2020. They bear the raw material from which understanding of history is built. When we humans do bad things in large groups -- the way that our ancestors supported a government that defended or participated in slavery -- we are not to blame for their sins. You don’t know much more about her from seeing her name on the side of the school or her likeness on the pedestal than you did before you saw those things. VA State Senator: Removing Statues Akin to “Erasing White History” BY Todd Neikirk June 4, 2020 Confederate statues have stood in Southern states for, in some cases, over 100 years. In doing this, we are not turning away from history. What does that have to do with history? Until I was in my late teens, we made their offspring an underclass in this country. Of Elizabeth Warren’s amendment to a defense spending bill requiring that American military bases be stripped of Confederate names, her fellow senator Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, said, “I just don’t think that Congress mandating that these be renamed and attempting to erase that part of our history is a way that you deal with that history.”. He was a soldier -- a kid who went away to war and died from typhoid, food poisoning, starvation in a Yankee prison camp or maybe a Union Minie’ ball. August 30, 2017 . So I believe we can stop suggesting that removing statues or renaming military bases is “erasing history.” They aren’t conveying historical knowledge in the first place, so there is no history there to be erased. Who were these people cast in bronze? Removing statues of racists is not erasing history: it’s finally acknowledging it. Several years ago, in one of D.C.’s largest suburbs in Arlington, Virginia, I came home to the cheerful apartment I shared with two fellow Southern women and I was surprised to see a new book positioned carefully … Rewriting history is positively Orwellian, and a terribly dangerous path. (A point reinforced here, I hope, because I entirely made her up; but anybody walking up to a statue or seeing a school name for the first time travels in that very same ignorance as did you — unless they have gotten historical information from elsewhere. Now we must re-examine our past under a more scrutinising lens, and from … That “from elsewhere” is the key: that is where the actual history is found.). The people whom the statues commemorate supported or profited from slavery. The removal of Confederate statues isn’t ahistorical, or erasing the remembrance of our past. These will be questions I will tackle in my next post. There has been a call for their removal for many of those years. (You may remember all this from school during a discussion of “primary vs. secondary sources.”). The preservation of history is not the concern of these neo-Nazis and white nationalist groups: the … No, it is not erasing history, because statues are mythology, not history. Is the removal of Confederate monuments and the names of Confederates from streets and military installations “erasing history” as so many who oppose those moves contend it is? The study of the events of the past, (My mother assumed my majoring in history in school meant I was just getting better at A — “you’ll just memorize dates?” — when what I was doing was getting better at B, reinterpreting and recontextualizing the events of the past in light of new knowledge. These resources are compiled, evaluated, compared, and contrasted with each other, and from them the historian — mixing in their understanding of the contexts in which the resources appeared — produces their interpretation of the event. ), How then do historians gain an understanding of the past? It is people now deciding what they want or don’t want now. In doing this, we are not turning away from history. To say that removing a statue from public land, even if the intent is to move the monument to a museum, is "erasing history" is not only ridiculous, but rather ignorant. Or you can see the issue in a broader historical scope and understand that slavery was a part of the economic system that enriched the British empire and the United States, and that we live with the effects of enslaving millions. Because statues and names in and of themselves lack that power to convey historical information. Too long has the history of Britain belonged to just one portion of its demographic. 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