When protesters in Bristol pulled down a prominent statue of slave trader Edward Colston as part of the Black Lives Matter protests against the killing of George Floyd, it prompted a nationwide debate. How should we memorialise controversial aspects of our past?
Some argue that Britain has spent too long glorifying periods of our history which should instead be viewed as shameful, including the many crimes carried out under the British Empire — slavery, famine and the pillaging of resources.
Others, however, point to recent calls for the removal of the statue of Winston Churchill — widely viewed as one of Britain’s great wartime leaders — and argue that this represents nothing more than an attack on British national identity, and, in Boris Johnson’s words, an attempt to photoshop history.
Regardless of which side of the debate one stands, it is clear that we are in the midst of a national re-examination of exactly how we reflect and memorialise, looking at everything from the roles and responsibilities of our education system to the collections we house in our museums.
In these increasingly polarised times, the IWM will convene a reasoned, independent and evidence-based discussion on how Britain should commemorate its history.
We cannot begin to solve the problems our society faces today without first understanding our past.
Watch Patrick Vernon, social commentator and campaigner, Meera Sabaratnam, Senior Lecturer in International Relations at SOAS, and historian Tom Holland to discuss. Chaired by Suzanne Raine, IWM Trustee and former Director of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.