Contested Histories: creating and critiquing public monuments and memorials in the wake of ‘Rhodes Must Fall’

Tomás Irish's picture
Call for Papers
June 29, 2020 to June 30, 2020
United Kingdom
Subject Fields: 
Architecture and Architectural History, Cultural History / Studies, Colonial and Post-Colonial History / Studies, Contemporary History, Public History

This event, organised by Swansea University’s Conflict, Reconstruction and Memory research group, will explore debates surrounding the cultural and political uses of monuments, and reflect upon their role in the memorialisation and imagining of the past. For the purposes of the proceedings, we will take a broad view of ‘monuments’, considering artefacts such as war memorials, cenotaphs and public statuary as well as urban sites damaged through war, or locations hallowed through their connection to pivotal events in the past. The focus of the workshop draws inspiration from contemporary debates energised by movements such as the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ protests, Decolonizing the University, and activist campaigns to remove statues commemorating confederate participants in the US Civil War.

These developments have prompted academics to pose a number of linked questions about the role of public statuary. What socio-political motives underpin cultural responses to monuments? How have monuments shaped how people understand the past? How do monuments interact with the urban setting in which they stand? How do the meanings of monuments develop over time and how are they mediated? What is the future of public statuary? How have monuments been used to enforce political hegemony/subjugate minorities? What monumental forms might represent histories of oppression and occlusion? We aim to address these questions over the course of this workshop.

This event aims to contribute to these dialogues by fostering academic critiques of past uses of monuments and statues, whilst simultaneously engaging with present-day issues, as interpreted by practitioners who are (or have been) involved in modern-day campaigns to commission, design, or take down monuments. In this way, the workshop will bring together theory and practice in a unique manner.

The organisers particularly encourage proposals which address any of the following themes, in historic or contemporary contexts: 

  • The creation, alteration and subversion of statues
  • Iconoclasm: the destruction of monuments
  • Monuments as sites of local and regional memory
  • War memorials and their communities
  • Post-imperial and post-colonial attitudes towards monuments
  • Memorials as vessels for subaltern voices

The keynote speaker will be Dr Stefan Goebel (University of Kent), on the topic: 'Intersecting memories: memorialising two world wars'

The event will take place in Taliesin Create, Swansea University, Singleton Park, Swansea, UK.

The organisers particularly encourage contributions from Early Career Researchers. We will award bursaries to ECR speakers to help cover travel and accommodation costs. Scholars wishing to give a paper at the workshop should send a 300-word abstract, along with a short CV, to by 4pm on Friday  27  March 2020. The final programme will be drawn up shortly afterwards.

Funding for this event has generously been provided by the British Academy and Leverhulme Trust, in conjunction with the Elizabeth Barker fund(project SRG1819\190187), by the Past and Present Society, the Royal Historical Society and the Swansea University College of Arts and Humanities Research Environment Fund.

Contact Info: 

Workshop organisers: Dr Simon John, Dr Tomás Irish (Swansea University).