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Policy Exchange's "History Matters Project"
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Prosperity • People • Place • Patriotism
History Matters Project Compendium 9th Edition

 Edited by Alexander Gray 

This is the ninth edition of our rolling compendium, which attempts to draw together a range of recent developments that turn on the place of history in the public square – including the removal of certain statues on public display, the renaming of buildings and places, and changes to the way history is taught in educational curricula. In cataloguing these examples, we do not offer any judgment on the actions of the individual or institution in question, today or in the past. Our aim is simply to provide a clear documentary record of what is happening – which can help inform public debate on these issues. At present, the evidence confirms that history is the most active front in a new culture war, and that action is being taken widely and quickly in a way that does not reflect public opinion or growing concern over our treatment of the past.

 

Policy Exchange renews a call for evidence asking museum directors, curators, teachers and the wider public to share their experiences and concerns about the ways in which history is being politicised, and sometimes distorted, sending their evidence to callforevidence@policyexchange.org.uk.


Contents 


1. University of Aberdeen
2. Pimlico Academy 
3. Universities Minister 
4. Haberdashers’ Aske’s School 
5. Worcester College, Oxford
6. Balliol College, Oxford
7. University of Oxford – Music 
8. NASUWT – The Teachers’ Union
9. City of London
10. Senedd - Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee
11. Charity Commission
12. National Trust 
13. Horniman Museum.
14. Kew Gardens 
15. Royal Historical Society
16. Manchester Museum 
17. Victoria Cross 
18. Claudia Webbe MP
19. Policy Exchange Paper – Street Names
1. University of Aberdeen 
 
The University of Aberdeen has announced it will return a Benin Bronze to Nigeria. In a statement, the University said:
 
“The University of Aberdeen is to return a Benin bronze - a sculpture looted by British soldiers in Nigeria in one of the most notorious examples of the pillaging of cultural treasures associated with 19th century European colonial expansion.

Thousands of metal and ivory sculptures and carvings were looted by British forces in 1897 during the destruction of Benin City in present-day Nigeria by a British military expedition.

Many of the soldiers and administrators involved sold Benin objects to museums or private collectors. Others were later given as gifts to museums or sold at auction or by art dealers.

Over the last 40 years there have been growing calls for the return of such items, which have become symbols of injustice.

A number of museums have been discussing the Benin bronzes in their collections and are supporting the creation of the Edo Museum of West African Art in Benin City to display the returned items under agreements wrought by all parties.

The University of Aberdeen instigated a conversation through Professor Bankole Sodipo, Professor of Law in Babcock University, Nigeria with the National Commission for Museums and Monuments of Nigeria through its Legal Adviser, Babatunde Adebiyi, the Edo State Government through the then Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Professor Yinka Omorogbe and the Royal Court of the Oba of Benin through Prince Professor Gregory Akenzua in 2020.

The Nigerian Federal Government gave its backing through the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture and its Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed.

This conversation has now led to the University of Aberdeen becoming the first institution to agree to the full repatriation from a museum of a Benin bronze.

The bronze sculpture depicting an Oba (king) of Benin was acquired by the University in 1957 at an auction and is considered a superb example of Benin Late Period Art.

Benin City was the centre of a powerful and long-lasting kingdom in West Africa of the Edo people, renowned for its tradition of high-quality metalworking from at least the 17th century.

The expansion of British trade and colonial control in the later 19th century brought it into conflict with the kingdom of Benin, ultimately leading, in 1897, to the city being attacked and destroyed by a British military expedition, the “Benin Punitive Expedition”, with many inhabitants killed. The royal palace was burned and looted, and the Oba, Ovonramwen Nogbaisi, exiled.

The thousands of religious and cultural treasures seized have become known as the Benin bronzes.

It would not have been right to have retained an item of such great cultural importance that was acquired in such reprehensible circumstances. We therefore decided that an unconditional return is the most appropriate action we can take, and are grateful for the close collaboration with our partners in Nigeria." Professor George Boyne

Neil Curtis, Head of Museums and Special Collections said “The University of Aberdeen has previously agreed to repatriate sacred items and ancestral remains to Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and has a procedure that considers requests in consultation with claimants.

“An ongoing review of the collections identified the Head of an Oba as having been acquired in a way that we now consider to have been extremely immoral, so we took a proactive approach to identify the appropriate people to discuss what to do.”

An expert panel, including academic specialists and curators, as well as representatives of the University Court, the Hunterian Museum in the University of Glasgow and the Nigerian claimants, discussed the proposal in detail and unanimously recommended its return to Nigeria.

On Tuesday the University’s governing body supported the unconditional return of the Benin bronze to Nigeria.

Professor George Boyne, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen said: “I welcome the decision of the University of Aberdeen Court to support the return of the Benin bronze. This is in line with our values as an international, inclusive university and our foundational purpose of being open to all and dedicated to the pursuit of truth in the service of others.

“It would not have been right to have retained an item of such great cultural importance that was acquired in such reprehensible circumstances. We therefore decided that an unconditional return is the most appropriate action we can take, and are grateful for the close collaboration with our partners in Nigeria.”

Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture of Nigeria said: “The reaching out by the University of Aberdeen and eventual release of the priceless antiquity is a step in the right direction. Other holders of Nigerian antiquity ought to emulate this to bring fairness to the burning issue of repatriation”.

The Director-General of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Professor Abba Issa Tijani said that: “the world looks forward to further release of other purloined Nigerian antiquities to the Nigerian nation. Not just Benin bronzes, but the Ife, Nok, Esie, Owo and other Nigerian ancient arts. We welcome collaborations and agreements of all sorts. We love the fact that others cherish these great art-works. International travelling exhibitions of these art-works is part of what we offer the world”.

The University is now making practical arrangements for the return of the Head of an Oba, and collaborating in organising a celebratory event to mark its return home.

The proposed Edo Museum of West African Art being championed by Godwin Obaseki, the current Governor of Edo State in Nigeria where the ancient kingdom of Benin falls. This modern museum will be part of an unprecedented cultural hub that will include this museum and other cultural heritage infrastructure including the Oba’s Palace.

It is being executed through the establishment of an independent trust (The Legacy Restoration Trust) established by the Edo State Governement in collaboration with the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, and the Royal Benin Palace. This cultural hub is designed by the eminent architect, Sir David Adjaye. This Benin bronze being returned will ultimately be housed in this proposed museum.

The Governor of Edo State stated, “I am looking forward to working with the Legacy Restoration Trust, the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, the Royal Palace and the University of Aberdeen to ensure that this object is returned safely and securely, and eventually housed in the Edo Museum of West African Art.”

Sources: University to return Benin bronze, University of Aberdeen, 25 March 2021
University of Aberdeen agrees to return Benin bronze, Youtube, University of Aberdeen
University of Aberdeen, Twitter
2. Pimlico Academy 
 
The principal of Pimlico Academy in London has taken down the Union Jack outside the school following student protests. Last September, a Union Jack at the school was ripped down and set alight by pupils. The walls of the academy were recently vandalised with graffiti including "ain't no black in the Union Jack".
 
Statement

This morning at Pimlico Academy a student protest took place in the playground. This caused disruption to learning with students taking part in the protest not attending lessons but all students were at all times safe and supervised by staff. Students who did not take part in the protest were able to go to classrooms where they were supervised by staff.

The right to protest is a civil liberty which, in the United Kingdom, we all enjoy, one that was hard fought-for and which not everyone in the world is fortunate to have.  Our students are bright, courageous, intelligent young people, passionate about the things that matter to them and acutely attuned to injustice. I admire them hugely for this though I regret that it came to this.

There was, naturally, press interest in this morning’s events and I wanted to write to you now to explain what happened at the academy today and to summarise the outcomes of discussions which took place with representatives of the student body.
The issue of the flying of the Union flag was discussed at length. We acknowledge that this symbol is a powerful one which evokes often intense reactions. We have listened to the concerns of students, parents and the wider community about it. After Easter, we will conduct a review of this and, as part of that, consult with all the academy’s stakeholders to elicit their feedback. In the meantime, and until that review is concluded, the Union flag will not be flown at the academy.

Students were vocal in their concerns about how they felt the PSHE curriculum was delivered.  I, too, having reviewed the contents of that curriculum carefully, feel that now is the moment to begin long-overdue discussions that will lead to a significant updating of that programme. I look forward to working with students and external agencies to map out a new programme, one that will address contemporary issues and will ensure that students are better able to navigate the world safely and healthily. The ‘current affairs’ aspect of that programme, already in place, will likewise ensure that students are able to discuss issues that are, truly, current.

Sixth Form student representatives raised concerns about certain aspects of the academy’s Uniform Policy. I was able to reassure students that their previous representations on these points had been the motivation for reflection which, in turn, resulted in revision to the relevant polices taking place.  These redrafted policies are the ones I shared with you this morning and remain available to download below.

The death of Sarah Everard has re-started a national conversation about women’s safety and sexual assault. Recent articles in the press and the foundation of the website ‘Everyone’s Invited’ have triggered all schools to reflect seriously on the processes in place when allegations of sexual assault are made by students. As I said in my letter this morning, I am confident that we have in place here rigorous systems for the reporting and handling of such matters. However, there is no room for complacency and so we will also review again our safeguarding procedures, working alongside statutory bodies to ensure they are as robust as possible. I am conscious though that concerns around women’s safety and sexual assaults are best handled by challenging toxic attitudes which often provide the conditions for such things. I will therefore, as part of the PSHE review, be ensuring that we teach students to recognise the equality, dignity and individual identity of all.

I want to conclude by apologising: to students who continue to inspire me daily and who have not always had their voices listened to closely enough; to my colleagues, the staff at Pimlico Academy, who continue to serve the students with such overwhelming dedication during difficult times; to parents and carers who, we know, always have the best interests of their children at heart and; to the wider community with whom we are committed to working positively with in the future. This is a moment for me and the Leadership Team to reflect deeply and to plan carefully so that, going forward, all who work and learn here can feel confident about doing so in a positive, scholarly, respectful environment.

The past twelve months have presented untold challenges to individuals, to communities, and to the world at large. I am privileged to lead an academic community that is committed to fulfilling its pledge that, regardless of the challenges which come our way, every child should attain freedom through education.
Yours sincerely,
Daniel Smith, Principal
 
Source: Statement March 2021, Pimlico Academy
3. Universities Minister 
 
Universities Minister Michelle Donelan MP has said that universities who censor reading lists are fictionalising history. She told Chopper's Politics podcast “The so-called decolonisation of the curriculum is, in effect, censoring history”.

"As a history student myself, I'm a vehement protector and champion of safeguarding our history. It otherwise becomes fiction, if you start editing it, taking bits out that we view as stains.

A fundamental part of our history is about learning from it, not repeating the mistakes, being able to analyse and challenge why those events happened, how those decisions were made so that we don't repeat those actions in the future.

If we're going down this road of taking bits out, are we then going to end up putting bits in that we wish had happened?
It's a very dangerous and odd road to go down, and certainly it has no place in our universities, I would argue, and it has no place in academic study.

And it just doesn't work when governments try to remove elements of history. Look at the Soviet Union, look at China. There are multiple examples where it's been tried. It doesn't work.
I'm all in favour of adding stuff in to enriching our understanding of history, to adding in sources from less well known and often overlooked individuals in history.

Let's enrich our understanding and give our young people a fuller picture and a fuller and deeper understanding of our history.

But most of the narrative that is coming out ... is about removing elements of history, about whitewashing it and pretending that it never happened, which I just think is naive and almost irresponsible.

A lot of the talk of the decolonisation is actually removing those elements, it's not about packing in extra into history.

And when you look at people that are saying that our study is wrong in the UK, you don't often hear them talking about just enriching the sources that are used for students to study from it, it's about removing certain texts and books and replacing them with alternatives.

And I also feel sorry for the students here, I mean, students want to actually properly learn and if we're adding stuff in, brilliant, but taking it out is not going to achieve them learning."

Listen to the podcast here.

Sources: University censorship is fictionalising history, says Universities Minister, The Telegraph, 27th February 2021
Chopper's Politics podcast, The Telegraph
4. Haberdasher's Aske's School 
 
The school has released a statement regarding Robert Aske.

“I hope that you are safe and well in these unprecedented times. We recently enjoyed welcoming pupils back to the School and it is hoped that the end of the pandemic is in sight. However, it is not about this matter that I am writing to you today.

It is with great sadness that I must report that the Haberdashers’ Company and its Schools, both in Elstree and the Federation in South London, have become aware that our benefactor, Robert Aske, whose bequest over three hundred years ago laid the foundations for the education of children across London, was a shareholder in the Royal African Company.  It is clear to us all that the role of the Royal African Company, and the other companies involved in the slave trade, was deplorable and abhorrent.  Such activity sits in stark contrast with the values which underpin the activities and philosophy of the Company, its Schools and beneficiaries today. 

As the founding benefactor, Robert Aske is a man whose legacy has been central to the Schools. We cannot change the past, but equally we cannot ignore it. We can however learn from our history and use it to shape who we are today and what we will become tomorrow. As hugely multi-cultural Schools, we have an unparalleled opportunity to learn from the diverse communities of our pupil and parent body to become even more international in our outlook, welcoming of diversity of thought and warmly embracing of the fundamental human values that bind us all, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, gender and social background.

As you may be aware from my last letter, following the events of last summer, the School is already engaged in comprehensive review of culture, values and ideals and this matter will be explicitly included for consideration by the wide range of stakeholders involved in the consultation and review process. Furthermore, the matter will now be subject to deliberation by the Company, which is rightly proud of its ethos of benevolence, fellowship and inclusion, and the diverse nature of its membership.  The outcome of these reviews, including the future use of the Aske name, will be communicated when conclusions are reached, and decisions made. 

If you have any questions, concerns or comments related to this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me at the School or via Roger Llewellyn at foundation@habs​boys.org.uk  In the meantime, please accept my very best wishes for your continued well-being.

Yours faithfully
Gus Lock (OH 1994)
Headmaster”

Source: Policy Exchange - Call for Evidence
5. Worcester College, Oxford 

Worcester College has announced it will launch a “decolonisation course”.

Dear all,

Next term Worcester College will be launching a Decolonisation course, aimed at equipping us as a community to engage in more equitable and anti-racist modes of teaching and learning together.

In this email, we invite students and staff members across the university to join us for the Trinity 2021 reading group, entitled Decolonising through…, where we will be looking at some of the actions and activities we engage in as members of an educational community that we could seek to decolonise.

If you would like to sign up to the reading group and receive information about other aspects of the course, including a lecture series in Michaelmas 2021, please sign up using this form.

You will find the syllabus for this series here, and a Decolonisation Canvas Course where you will be able to access links to each of the readings. We hope to have all readings hosted on Canvas by the middle of the vacation. The group will meet every week during Trinity on Tuesdays, 4-5pm. A Teams link will be sent to the mailing list in advance of each session.

You are welcome to come along even if you haven’t had the opportunity to read any of the materials, we are aware that Trinity is a very busy term. The reading group is open to all university students and staff, so if you have friends or colleagues at other colleges who you think the group would be of interest to, please feel free to send them the sign up form.

We’re really looking forward to meeting you next term.

Have a wonderful vacation and if you have any questions, please get in touch with either Chella or I.

Best wishes,
Rea Duxbury, Learning Development Officer and Marchella Ward, Tinsley Outreach Fellow 

Source: Policy Exchange - Call for Evidence
 
6. Balliol College, Oxford
 
Dame Helen Ghosh, master of Balliol College Oxford has apologised for “the historical acceptance of donations linked to the slave trade.” Speaking to The Sunday Times, she said research due to be published later this year showed the college had accepted 39 contributions worth £2 million in today’s money from benefactors with links to the slave trade between 1600 and 1919.

She said it was “a tricky area”, adding: “Of course, looking back on this now we are sorry that we took those donations — whatever might have been in the minds of people who took them at the time.”

She added that some of the donations were from the owners of slave plantations, and those who owned ships that transported slaves, a connection that she said is “highly regret[table] whatever the level of donation”.

Read the full article here.

Source: Balliol College Oxford apologises for 300 years of taking slavery cash, The Sunday Times
 
7. University of  Oxford - Music 
 
Musical notation has been branded 'colonialist' by an Oxford professor hoping to 'decolonise' the curriculum, according to documents seen by The Telegraph. In the proposal, a staff member questions the current curriculum's "complicity in white supremacy".

A professor said the classical repertoire taught at Oxford, which spans works by Mozart and Beethoven, focuses too much on "white European music from the slave period".

Documents reveal that a faculty member, who decides on courses that form the music degree, proposed reforms to address this "white hegemony", including rethinking the study of musical notation because it is a "colonialist representational system".
Teaching notation which has not "shaken off its connection to its colonial past" would be a "slap in the face" for some students, documents state, and music-writing studies have been earmarked for rebranding to be more inclusive.

An academic also proposed that musical skills such as learning to play the keyboard or conducting orchestras should no longer be compulsory because the repertoire "structurally centres white European music" which causes "students of colour great distress".

It is also noted that the "vast bulk of tutors for techniques are white men".

Read the full article here.

Source: Musical notation branded 'colonialist' by Oxford professors hoping to 'decolonise' the curriculum, The Telegraph, 27 March 2021
 
8. NASUWUT - The Teacher's Union
 
The NASUWT teaching union has called for the curriculum to be decolonised. In a statement, the union said:

“Black history should be fully embedded and taught across the curriculum in schools, the Annual Conference of the NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union has heard today.

The Union believes that curriculum frameworks should reflect, respect and value the contributions made by all communities in building the United Kingdom.

Education should equip all children and young people to understand and respect their own and each other’s histories, cultures and traditions, representatives at the Annual Conference agreed.

Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the NASUWT and Chair of the TUC’s Anti-racism Taskforce, said: “The Black Lives Matter movement has dramatically highlighted racial injustice and inequality.

However, we must ensure that these momentous protests lead to long-lasting and tangible progress within our society.
Education has vital role to play in teaching future generations about our country’s shared history, promoting equality, inclusion and respect for others, and in teaching about the historical injustices that continue to drive all forms of discrimination and extremism in our society today.

The NASUWT is calling for the decolonising of curriculums across the UK.

We will be lobbying governments to secure inclusive curriculum frameworks, which recognise and celebrate the contributions of all citizens.”

Source: NASUWT calls for decolonising of the curriculum, 05/04/2021
 
9. City of London 
 
The City of London has said there are no plans to change street names or to remove the statues of William Beckford and Sir John Cass.

“Following recommendations of our Tackling Racism Taskforce, our Policy and Resources Committee proposed re-siting two notable heritage items within the Guildhall estate, the statues depicting William Beckford and Sir John Cass. There has been no proposal or decision to change any street name within the Square Mile.
 
At the February meeting of our Policy and Resources committee, following our decision in January to implement the recommendations of the Tackling Racism Taskforce, the committee agreed to set up a working group to consider and fully evaluate a wide range of options for addressing concerns relating to the statues of William Beckford and Sir John Cass in Guildhall.
 
The working group will report back to our Court of Common Council by the end of September, setting out the options considered, the evaluation of those options and recommendations to the court.
 
No further action will be taken in regard to the two statues until the Court of Common Council has considered the report from the Statues Working Group and agreed how to proceed.”
 
Source: City of London
10. Senedd - Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee 
 
The Senedd's Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee has carried out an inquiry into how historical figures are remembered in public spaces. It recommends that a new Welsh national commemoration plaque scheme be created and that communities should decide whether to remove statues in their area.

Recommendation 1. The Welsh Government should publicise the work of the Legall Audit of Commemoration through a programme of community engagement and public awareness-raising.

Recommendation 2. The Welsh Government should leave ultimate authority for decisions relating to contentious statues, monuments or commemorations with local authorities and communities. However, there are some important processes and principles which should apply and which the Welsh Government should provide leadership and guidance to local authorities and other public bodies on, which are set out below.

Recommendation 3. The Welsh Government should create a comprehensive “one stop shop” guidance document for local authorities and public bodies relating to acts of commemoration in Wales. The guidance should include:
  • Advice on best practice for consulting local communities;
  • Advice on participative methods for engaging ‘harder to reach’ and minority groups;
  • Advice on involving specialist opinion, including local historians.
Recommendation 4. The Welsh Government should agree criteria for inclusion in the guidance document which can be used as a “diagnostic checklist” by local authorities and relevant public bodies in determining whether to consult on relocation or greater contextualisation of a statue or commemoration. This checklist of criteria should adapt existing examples of good practice and should include:
  • Whether the person is of historical significance?
  • Whether this person has had a national impact or a significant positive impact on his or her field?
  • How was this person viewed at the time and how are they viewed today? Do they provide a good example to people?
  • How is this person viewed across communities – including minority communities and groups?
  • Has this person made a contribution to the well-being and happiness of the public?
Recommendation 5. In instances where contentious statues have been identified: local authorities and public bodies should engage local communities, experts, and historians to agree greater provision of information and contextualisation. The Welsh Government should set out a clear policy position with regard to this.

Recommendation 6. The Welsh Government should set out in its response to this report what assessment it has made of the financial implications of removing statues (in instances where local communities have earmarked a statue for removal) and how it will work with local authorities and heritage bodies to ensure they have the resources they need to undertake further work in this area.

Recommendation 7. The Welsh Government should work in partnership with local authorities, charities, and the heritage sector to identify ways in which the current under-representation of particular groups can be addressed with a view to commissioning new statues or commemorative art works in Wales.

Recommendation 8. The Welsh Government should work in partnership with local authorities, charities, and the heritage sector to identify suitable locations for future statues or commemorative art works of national significance in Wales to tackle the under-representation identified in this report.

Recommendation 9. The Welsh Government should work in partnership with local authorities, charities, and the heritage sector to create a new, national plaque scheme of public commemoration in line with the principles and criteria outlined in this report.

Source: Welsh Parliament Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee: Set in Stone? A report on who gets remembered in public spaces, March 2021
11. Charity Commission
 
The Charity Commission has concluded its compliance case involving the National Trust, finding that there are no grounds for regulatory action against the charity. However, the regulator has welcomed the charity’s commitment to learning lessons from its recent experience, and its ongoing commitment to take into account a wide range of views and opinions within its membership and wider society.

Read the full press release here.

Source: Press release, Charity Commission finds National Trust did not breach charity law, 11 March 2021, gov.uk
12. National Trust 
 
The director of the National Trust, Hilary McGrady has written a blog post responding to the Charity Commission's statement.

“The Charity Commission has concluded today that that there are no grounds for regulatory action against us, following complaints the Commission received about a report we published last September. Director-General Hilary McGrady responds to their statement, and offers further insight into our approach to researching and sharing the history of the places in our care.

We welcome the Charity Commission's conclusion that there are no grounds for regulatory action against us, following complaints the Commission received about the report we published on historic slavery and colonialism links at the places we care for. We are also pleased that the Commission is satisfied we gave due consideration to how the report and the research behind it would further our charitable purpose.

Before we move forward, I think it is important to state for you – our staff, volunteers and supporters – where I stand when it comes to researching and sharing the history of the places in our care.

The National Trust has an unparalleled role as a custodian of the natural and cultural heritage of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. No other UK organisation cares for so many places spanning such a vast period or geography – from the 60-million-year-old rocks of the Giant’s Causeway to Paul McCartney and John Lennon’s childhood homes in Liverpool.

A treasury of houses, gardens, precious places and works of art have been entrusted to our care. They represent a shared inheritance and speak to our collective history, character and identity. We know this is an extraordinary privilege, and with this privilege comes a deep sense of responsibility and commitment.

It is our history in its entirety that makes us who we are as nations and as people. We all have a right to explore it for ourselves, to help us find our own place in the world. And let’s not forget that our collections also speak to world history and the history of other nations and people.

There is so much to be proud of in our history. The wonderful collection of places the Trust cares for, that have been cherished for generations before us, is a testament to that. However history can also be challenging and contentious. It is surely a sign of confidence, integrity and pride that while we can celebrate and enjoy history we can also explore and acknowledge all aspects of it. The National Trust is at its best when we capture this complexity – when we present facts and material evidence in ways that inspire curiosity, inquiry, learning and sharing.

We had a very strong response to the interim report we published last September on the evidence of links between places in our care and colonial history, including historic slavery. This included thousands of responses from the public, our staff and volunteers, academics, historians and media commentators. The views expressed have been as wide-ranging and diverse as they have been numerous. We have received many messages of support, but undoubtedly the report and some of the commentary and debate last September caused genuine concern for some supporters.

It is worth remembering why we published this report. To look at an aspect of history that is there in many of the places we care for. To look at the material evidence we have and to ensure that we take account of it in the way we look after and present the places in our care. To be transparent and factual about this.

We have listened and considered the many responses, and been reminded that researching history and sharing it can stir up strong feelings and views.

As I said at a recent meeting of heritage leaders in England, I am passionate about culture being a force for good in society. Having lived all of my life in Northern Ireland I know only too well the impact of allowing cultural identity to become a source of division. I want the Trust to be dedicated to finding ways of making the arts, culture and heritage a vehicle for bringing people together, for shared acknowledgement, respect and understanding.

The National Trust must continue to take a wide-ranging and evidence-based approach to history. We have been reminded that we must work hard to place particular themes such as historic slavery and colonialism in a broad context at the places in our care. These are places that should help curious people come face to face with history and feel they can arrive at their own views. For these reasons, we support a ‘retain and explain’ approach to history, and will work with government and other organisations in culture and heritage as they develop their own thinking.

This approach will underpin our research, interpretation and programming and help us to maintain an open and positive relationship with our broad range of stakeholders and members, present and future.

We are developing a programme of rounded interpretation at properties. Balance and integration will be at the heart of this programme. Our curatorial teams continue doing vital work with properties to make sure we have the highest standards of presentation and interpretation at these places. We are here for all of history – for everyone, for ever.”
 
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Speaking to Jeremy Paxman on the podcast The Lock In, Hilary McGrady said she is not “woke” and has defended the organisation’s report on the colonial connections of its historic houses. She said her biggest mistake was the timing of the publication “because it got conflated with Black Lives Matter”.

Listen to the whole podcast here.
 
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National Trust members have launched a campaign to battle the charity's 'woke agenda'. It warns that visitors to country homes should not leave feeling that their history is “demonised". The group named ‘Restore Trust’ is trying to persuade the Trust to drop its political agenda and focus on “what they do best” by protecting historic houses, gardens and artwork for the public.

Read more here
 
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The National Trust has also been encouraging children to write poems lamenting Britain’s history. The Colonial Countryside Project, led by Professor Corinne Fowler of the University of Leicester, is “a child-led writing and history project exploring the African, Caribbean and Indian connections” of National Trust properties.

Read more here.
 
Sources: National Trust, Responding to the Charity Commission's statement, Published: 11 March 2021
The Lock In with Jeremy Paxman, Hilary McGrady, 24 March 2021
Restore Trust, Get the National Trust back to its real mission
Colonial Countryside Project, National Trust
13. Horniman Museum 

 
The Horniman Museum in south London has stated that artefacts stolen or acquired “through force or other forms of duress” represent an “ongoing hurt or injustice” to people in the country of origin and the diaspora. The museum has now “set out transparent policies and procedures by which communities can enter into discussion with them about the future of this material, including its possible return”.

“We recognise that the collections in the Horniman have been acquired at different times and under a range of circumstances, some of which would not be appropriate today, such as through force or other forms of duress. We understand that for some communities – whether in countries of origin or in the diaspora – the retention of some specific objects, natural specimens or human remains is experienced as an ongoing hurt or injustice. In recognition of this, the Horniman trustees wish to set out transparent policies and procedures by which communities can enter into discussion with them about the future of this material, including its possible return.”

Source: Restitution and Repatriation Policy, Horniman Museum and Gardens, March 2021
14. Kew Gardens 
 
Kew Gardens has released a 10-year manifesto which pledges to decolonise its collections.

“We Will: - Ensure the diverse countries and cultures that partner with RBG Kew and contribute to our collections are accurately and equitably represented. We will move quickly to ‘de-colonise’ our collections, re-examining them to acknowledge and address any exploitative or racist legacies, and develop new narratives around them.”
 
Source: Kew Gardens, Our Manifesto for Change 2021-2030
15. Royal Historical Society 
 
The Royal Historical Society has asked the Government to clarify its position on the funding of historical research. In a letter to the culture secretary, the RHS and the heads of other UK historical organisations said:

“Dear Sir,

We write to express our concern as historians about ministers’ illegitimate interference in the research and interpretation done by our arm’s length heritage bodies such as museums, galleries, the Arts Council and the lottery heritage fund.

In particular we deplore the position, attributed to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Department in the press recently, that Professor Corinne Fowler’s ‘Colonial Countryside’ project, which explores the links between National Trust properties, empire and slavery, will be barred from funding in future.  As historians, we find this deeply concerning and we ask the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, to confirm or deny whether this is his department’s position.

Academics are protected from such interference by the ‘Haldane Principle’, which accepts that government should set the general strategic direction of public funding for academic research but that ministers must not seek to make directions on individual funding decisions, which are best left to peer review to ensure both quality and independence.  Arm’s length bodies such as the Arts Council and the National Lottery Heritage fund are not so explicitly protected.  Perhaps they should be; Parliament ought to consider this carefully.  But the Lottery Act at least specifies what are ministers’ powers and these do not include determination on individual projects.  The granting bodies, not the minister, have the expertise to determine what projects best fulfil their statutory mission, and both heritage organisations and individual researchers have the legitimate expectation based on long practice that the minister not interfere in those determinations.

The culture secretary has also been quoted as seeking to deny funding to any projects deemed ‘political’.  Not only do we dispute his authority to interfere in funding decisions, we also query his use of the word ‘political’.  It is worth pointing out that the Charity Commission has recently found that the National Trust’s recent investigations into the links between its properties, empire and slavery is compatible with its charitable purposes, i.e. not ‘political’ in the relevant sense of the word. The minister should welcome this finding and make clear that research of this kind, into the connections between heritage, slavery and empire, does indeed fall within the funding bodies’ public purposes, if deemed otherwise fundable by those bodies.

Britain has a tradition of arm’s length funding of education, culture and heritage which has always sought to insulate these spheres, crucial to free debate in a diverse society, from excessive interference by government.  Such interference stifles the capacity of historians to do their work and exerts a wider chilling effect.  It may deter – it may be intended to deter – historians from embarking on difficult or sensitive research.  It certainly undermines and impoverishes our ability to explore difficult issues.  It also runs counter to recent statements by the government in defence of academic freedom.

If anyone is being too ‘political’ here, it is politicians who violate the principles of arm’s-length governance by seeking to dictate what research our heritage bodies can and cannot support.”

Emma Griffin, President, Royal Historical Society
Peter Mandler, President, Historical Association
Peter D’Sena, Vice President, Royal Historical Society
Jonathan Morris, Vice President, Royal Historical Society
Olivette Otele, Vice President, Royal Historical Society
Jane Winters, Vice President, Royal Historical Society
Catherine Schenk, President, Economic History Society
Yolana Pringle, History UK
Jamie Wood, History UK.
Matthew Hilton, Co-Editor, Past & Present
Joanna Innes, Chair, Past & Present
Alexandra Walsham, Co-Editor, Past & Present
Naomi Tadmor, Chair, Social History Society

Source: RHS Asks Government to Clarify its Position on Historical Research, RHS, 21 March 2021 
16. Manchester Museum 
 
Manchester Museum has announced preparations to recruit a new “curator of living cultures, with a focus on proactive identification of contested materials within the museum’s collection.”

Georgina Young, head of exhibitions and collections at Manchester Museum, will be recruiting for the new curator to join her team in April. Curator of living cultures is an existing role within the museum, but responsibilities associated with the position have shifted.

“What has changed is that it is much more explicit than it was a decade ago about repatriation and restitution being a core part of the job,” Young said. “The expectation is that the new post will proactively look for contested items in the collection and not simply wait upon requests from various parties.”

Understanding an object’s provenance and how it became part of the museum’s collection is essential to curation. “It means that we are honest about where it came from and how we claimed it. That’s part of the duty of care anyway; understanding your collection is not controversial,” Young added.

Manchester Museum partners with Pitt Rivers Museum in its research on African restitution, alongside 12 other organisations across the UK. Led by Dan Hicks, professor of contemporary archaeology at the University of Oxford and a Pitt Rivers curator, the research focuses on supporting efforts to return objects of cultural heritage from European collections back to Africa on a case-by-case basis.

November 2019 saw Manchester Museum return 43 secret sacred and ceremonial items of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities back to Australia, and the museum’s partnership in current African repatriation research builds on the same commitment to restitution in other areas of the world.

“It's about knowing our collection better, but it’s also about understanding that in some instances what we discover may mean that ethically we don’t feel that we ought to hold those items,” said Young. “It’s a transference of expectation; it is part of our duty of care to identify items that might be contested and open up the conversation.”

The museum, part of the University of Manchester, also announced its support of a Diverse Curriculum Charter this week. Conceived in the wake of international Black Lives Matter protests and launched by Afzal Khan, MP for Manchester Gorton, the charter promotes diverse and anti-racist education for primary and secondary school children. Schools are being invited to sign up for the charter to show a commitment to diversifying education.

Khan, who is leading the scheme, spoke of the important role that museums can play in reshaping young people’s understanding of their history and heritage. He said: “All children – no matter their race or background – should be given the opportunity to engage in a wide-ranging curriculum which truly reflects the make-up of British society today. We know that our museums can play a crucial role in this by serving as spaces for identity-forming, truth-telling and educating.”

Sources: Manchester Museum makes moves towards repatriation and diversity, Museums Association, 01/04/2021
Manchester Museum, Twitter, 01/04/2021
17. Victoria Cross
 
The Minister for Housing Rt Hon Christopher Pincher MP has told MPs that the government is looking at proposals from the Conservative Common Sense Group to erect more statues to honour recipients of the Victoria Cross.

“I am always prepared to recognise the honour done for us by those great men who won the Victoria Cross, from wherever they hailed, and I certainly hope that more plaques to their memory are forthcoming.

By doing the things that we are proposing to do, we will give the whole community—not simply the self-loathing, Britain-hating perpetual revolutionaries who seem to have captured the commanding heights of the Labour party, but the whole community—the opportunity to engage and to give their views. Additionally, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has the power to call in planning applications, and he has set out his intention to exercise that power if appropriate.

It is clear from the contributions in this debate and in the wider public discourse that, with the passing of time and changing values in society, there will be examples of those who have had statues erected to them whose own story—and perhaps their family’s—is complex. Many statues and other historical objects were created by generations with different perspectives on right and wrong from our own. Some of what they believed to be virtues, we now believe to be vices. But it is better—far better—to remember that history, reflect that not everyone in the past was perfect, and retain that history and its monuments, so that we can all better understand it, not destroy it as the Marxist, wokeist ideologues would insist on.

We have a proud and rich history. Britain led the way in the abolition of slavery; we were foremost in abolishing it. The Royal Navy was one of the seminal forces sweeping it from the seas. So when we hear of those who argue that some public memorials are an abomination and that statues of people who profited from the transatlantic slave trade should be taken down, this Government’s clear view is that doing so is quite misguided. As my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington asked, where does that misguided logic end? Are we to take down the statue of Julius Caesar from Tower Hill, for we can be pretty sure that he brought slaves with him in 54 BC and doubtless carried away a few enslaved ancient Britons when he left? Do we want the Elgin marbles taken down and hidden away because they appear to deny the existence of slavery in ancient Greece? That is where that logic leads, but where does it end?

Our view of retaining and, where right, explaining is shared by Historic England, the Government’s advisory body on the historic environment. If we remove difficult and contentious parts of our heritage, we risk harming our own understanding of our collective past; yet that is where some of these book burners of the internet age are set on going. Ours is a great country with a proud and illustrious heritage of democracy, freedom and rule of law, and that is why we do not gloss over any failures in our past, nor seek to destroy the historic heritage that can help us understand those failures.

I am pleased to update the House on the changes that the Government are bringing forward to ensure the protection of our heritage. The planning system plays a crucial part in conserving and enhancing our heritage. I am pleased to tell the House that under the changes coming into effect in the spring, any proposals to remove an unlisted public landmark will require an application for planning permission, giving communities the right to be consulted. We are also introducing notification requirements to ensure that the Secretary of State is made aware of any contentious applications and has the opportunity to exercise his call-in powers if he considers that appropriate.

History, by its nature, can be contentious. But rest assured: The Government will act to ensure that our national heritage is protected from those who would seek to remove or deface it. The Spanish philosopher, Jorge Santayana, wrote in his “The Life of Reason”—and Churchill often quoted him—
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

For the sake of our remembered history, so that we do not repeat it—and, please, for the sanity of the Labour party—let us agree to remember and explain our past, not seek to destroy it.”
Source: Christopher Pincher, Minister for Housing, Hansard, Public Landmarks Review Volume 691: debated on Thursday 18 March 2021
 
 
18. Claudia Webbe

Claudia Webbe MP has claimed that a map showing the carving up of Africa between European colonial powers after the Berlin Conference of 1884 had been “hidden from you all your life”, despite it being taught on the National Curriculum. The Berlin Conference is widely taught in schools on the AQA GCSE history syllabus and the National Curriculum which stipulates that students in Key Stage Three (Years 7, 8 and 9) should be taught about “political power, industry and empire” in the years 1745-1901.


 
19. Policy Exchange Paper - Street Names 

On 14 March 2021 Policy Exchange published a paper – entitled ‘Protecting local heritage: How to bring democracy to the renaming of streets’ and written by Zewditu Gebreyohanes – proposing new, consolidated legislation on street name alteration which would require support from a 2/3 majority of ratepayers on a street before a council can rename a street, thereby ensuring that where any such alteration takes place, it carries legitimacy. The paper received coverage in the media, including in The Telegraph, The Times and The Daily Mail, and has been endorsed by Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, who said, “I applaud Policy Exchange’s research and will examine its proposals to help protect our heritage and ensure local people are at the heart of decision making”.

Read the paper here.
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