David Olusoga to chair discussion on diversity in statues and public memorials

David Olusoga OBE, Professor of Public History at The University of Manchester, is chairing a special panel discussion on the debate around statues and public memorials in Manchester and Bristol as part of Black History Month.

The event, ‘From Bristol to Manchester: history and memory in our cities’, will be held on Tuesday 5 October. It is part of The University of Manchester’s ‘Creative Manchester’ initiative and will question how diverse voices and communities can be engaged in cultural policymaking.

The discussion will also reflect on a recent consultation about statues, monuments and artworks in Manchester’s public realm. That consultation, carried out in spring 2021, outlined how important the conversation around public art and diverse histories has become to local communities and wider society. This was brought into sharp focus in June 2020 with the tearing down of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol.

Addressing the significance of the event Professor Olusoga says, "Over recent years statues have gone from being often neglected features of our urban landscapes to become lightning rods for long overdue conversations about hidden histories and contested heritage."

From Cecil Rhodes to Edward Colston to William Gladstone, the backstories of the men our statues depict (and the vast majority of them are of men) and the forgotten stories of why those statues were erected in the first place, and by whom, have bust into the national conversation. In the midst of the so-called ‘statue wars’ the question of what should become of the men cast in bronze or set in stone has never been more urgent.
Professor David Olusoga OBE

The panel will include Ray Barnett, Head of Collections and Archives at Bristol Museums, Dr Sadia Habib of The University of Manchester and Dr Joanna Burch-Brown of the University of Bristol. They will be joined by members of Manchester Museum’s Our Shared Cultural Heritage Young Collective who participated in ‘Whose Statues? Whose Stories?’, a series of online workshops led by Dr Habib that brought together young people, researchers and spoken word artists to examine monuments in their local areas and produce creative responses.

Commenting on the event Professor John McAuliffe, Director of Creative Manchester, says, “Creative Manchester works with researchers at the University and external partners to develop the crucial evidence base we need to address ideas at the heart of contemporary culture: we are delighted to be bringing together key figures at events like this which will drive productive new conversations, not just in Manchester and Bristol, but nationally too.”

The event builds on the findings of The University of Manchester’s ESRC-funded research project on ‘The Changing Shape of Cultural Activism'. Under the auspices of the Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE), the project examined global activism against the presence of statues that commemorate colonisers and slave traders. The project team, including former Guardian editor-at-large Professor Gary Younge, investigated local and national policy approaches to this transnational issue and has made a series of recommendations for UK policymakers.

Tickets are available for the livestream of the event, or to book to attend in person.