The lim­i­ta­tions of stat­ues

BBC History Magazine - - Letters -

In re­sponse to RT Brit­nell’s let­ter on stat­ues (Oc­to­ber), the ar­gu­ments in favour of these public mon­u­ments can be sum­marised as fol­lows: 1) they con­vey valu­able lessons on his­tory; 2) they are re­minders of the un­com­fort­able as­pects of our past; 3) they some­how sym­bol­ise who we are and where we’ve come from, and 4) they are cel­e­bra­tions of spe­cific as­pects of a per­son’s his­tory, for ex­am­ple their mil­i­tary ge­nius or sub­se­quent phi­lan­thropy.

I would ar­gue that stat­ues do none of these things ef­fec­tively. A statue can­not con­vey com­plex­i­ties, sub­tleties or mul­ti­ple view­points. A statue is vir­tu­ally use­less as a his­tory les­son and too sim­plis­tic as a moral les­son.

Many of those who op­pose cer­tain con­tro­ver­sial stat­ues are not do­ing so out of a lack of his­tor­i­cal un­der­stand­ing, nor be­cause they have some­how been in­cu­bated against any dis­turb­ing as­pects of our shared past, but quite the op­po­site.

An in­di­vid­ual may fill their homes with books and mag­a­zines about his­tory (and I would cel­e­brate that). They have much less choice about the public art they have to live with. Sim­i­larly, if a per­son has a book­shelf full of mag­a­zines about the Nazis, or the Mon­gol em­pire or the cru­sades, it would be ridicu­lous to leap to con­clu­sions about that per­son’s world­view or moral­ity. If, how­ever, they erected a statue out­side their house of Adolf Hitler, Genghis Khan or the Knights Tem­plar it would not be un­rea­son­able for neigh­bours to raise con­cern.

Robert Nathan, Ply­mouth

We re­ward the Let­ter of the Month writer with our ‘His­tory Choice’ book of the month. This is­sue, it’s The Cold War: A World His­tory by Odd Arne Wes­tad. Read the re­view on page 69

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