Have you noticed there are memorials all around us? We can see them in street names, place names, statues, gravestones, plaques and murals. Look around your city, town or village. Who has been remembered? Who has been forgotten? What memorials would you like to see?
How to do it
The fall of Edward Colston's statue in June 2020 launched a global conversation about our statues and their connection to history. People had very different feelings about it, but almost everybody agrees that it made them stop and think - about history, democracy, equality, fairness, and what kind of society we want to create.
We've created several activities involving monuments and memorials. Do as many of them as you want to.
The Four Truths came out of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is about seeing history and heritage from four different angles and understanding that all of them are important.
Monument Detective Toolkit is all about investigating the monuments and memorials around us. What are monuments and memorials for? How do they work? What can we discover by looking a little more closely?
Memorial making: Design and create a memorial of your own, to remember something or somebody who matters to you.
The Colston Dialogues are about exploring what the fall of Colston’s statue meant to different people. They start from personal experience, and then ask us to reflect on the bigger questions about how we can connect across political difference.
These activities give you the chance to:
- Explore what monuments and memorials mean
- Reflect on your own and other people's experiences
- Be inspired to bring people together in positive ways around challenging histories
- Create your own memorial and personal legacy.
The Four Truths Framework
Monuments and memorials help us remember historical events, but they often mean different things to different people. Choose a monument or memorial to think about. It might be something famous like the Colston statue, or it might be something right in your neighbourhood, like a WWII plaque or a piece of street art.
Explore your monument using the idea of the Four Truths.
- Forensic truth - the facts about what happened
- Personal truth - what this history or object means to you, personally
- Social truth - the tapestry of meanings across society
- Healing truth - the healing insights that can help us heal and grow from challenging history
Spend some time and sit with each truth. Can you find a way to creatively represent each of these truths for your monument? You might write them down, or find some other way to share them.
Monument Detective Toolkit
What are monuments for? How do they work? This is a toolkit for decoding monuments. Try finding a monument or memorial, and ask yourself these questions.
1. What is it?
Is it a statue or plaque or some other form of monument or memorial? It might be something much bigger – a whole street or something like a park or sport stadium. In Bristol, the whole Memorial Ground where Bristol Rovers play is a memorial in itself.
2. What or who is being remembered?
Try to find out as much as you can about who the person or event represented. For more famous people and events, you can find information online. Wikipedia is a good place to start, but you might want to also use a more reliable source like the Dictionary of National Biography that you can access online via Libraries West.
3. How are they being remembered?
Monuments are always selective. They portray people or events in particular ways. What particular aspect of this person or event is being remembered? Who is the artist and what is the form of the monument? Is there anything that strikes you as unusual?
4. What does it look like?
What is the monument’s size? Shape? Location? Is it abstract or figurative? If there is a figure, what do they look like? What is the pose? Is there any text, and what does it say? Why did the artist choose to make the monument look like this - what were they saying?
5. Where is it?
Which part of the city, town or countryside is it in? What is around it? Is it out in the open or hidden away? Is it close to other monuments or memorials? If so, what are they, and is there any kind of connection?
Remember that the memorial might have been moved. You could look at historical maps on https://maps.bristol.gov.uk/kyp/?edition=, or to find out more about some of Bristol’s moving statues see https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/e0437ac00d454281be84eaf4494cff18
6. When was it made?
Is there a date on the monument of when it was put up, or other clues about this? Was it on an anniversary, or close to someone’s death, or years after? If you can’t find a date, then you might need to do some exploring online or in old newspapers or use the historical maps of Bristol to see when it appears.
7. Who put it here?
Is there any clue of who decided to create the monument and paid for it? It might be hidden away round the back, or you might need to do some digging around in old newspapers to find out more. Monuments never simply appear. Someone always puts them there.
This is a big question. Why do you think someone put up a monument to a particular person or event where they did, when they did, and in the form that they did? What was going on at that time? Who was celebrating or commemorating this particular person and why was this event seen to be important? What do you think this memorial was meant to say to people in the city?
This is the kind of question that demands what historians call ‘interpretation’. This means taking all the information that they have found out from all the different questions asked and putting it together with information about the broader context of the place and time they are interested in.
Here it’s really useful to try to find out a bit more about what was happening when the memorial or monument was put up. Remembering the past is often about what was happening at that particular moment. To find out more about the period of history when the monument was put up, try to read a bit about that particular moment in a more general history of the city or country. Once you’ve got some senses of that broader context can you can try to answer the big question of why this person, rather than someone else, was commemorated or celebrated?
As well as asking these historical questions, you might want to also ask yourself some more contemporary questions about your own emotional response to the monument now.
9. How does it make you and other people feel?
Spend some time decoding your own feelings. You might be proud, indifferent, intimidated, angry, bored, curious or have other feelings.
Ask a few people to find out how they feel, too.
All of us have people, places, events, experiences and things we have loved and want to remember. Why not create a memorial to someone or something that has been important to you?
How to do it
Set aside some special time, just for yourself. Enjoy making your memorial and appreciating the person, place, experience, event or thing you are remembering.
Let yourself get creative. Use our tips below for ideas for what you might make.
Place your memorial in the location where you’d like it to be. Remember if you are putting it in public, it might be temporary, so it is nice to think of this as something meaningful to enjoy just in this moment.
Take a photo, make a video, or write a little something to tell people about what you’ve made.
Share your experience and your memorial on our social media channels, by email or by snail mail.
Through this activity you will…
- Reconnect with memories that are meaningful to you.
- Appreciate what’s important in your life
- Send thanks to somebody or something that has mattered to you
- Share with others
Tips and resources
Here are some prompts to help you come up with ideas.
- Is there a person, place or thing that you want to celebrate and remember? Why is this important to you?
- If making a memorial for a person, what did that person especially love, or what did you appreciate about them? How might that person want to be remembered? If memorializing a place, experience, event or thing, what is it that stands out most to you? What makes it special?
- What feelings do you want people to have when they look at your memorial? Is there a particular emotion you want people to feel, or thoughts you want them to have?
- Spend some time looking at examples of memorials other people have made. Think about all the different ways people memorialize things that matter to them. Which ones speak to you?
- What colours, shapes, materials, textures, and content might evoke the feeling you want to share?
- What materials will you use to make the memorial? Is it a painting, a mural, a sculpture? Is it made of natural materials like wood, or made of things made by people?
- Where would you like to make your memorial? Is it something for your garden, your street, or something you’ll bring to a special place?
Using Citizen Panels + street-level voting: A model for democratic decision-making
How can democracies best decide what to do with controversial statues and place names? Should it be decided by experts, or by government? Should it come down to a vote?
In this activity, we present one model for democratic decision-making on difficult issues, and apply it to statues, using a combination of Citizens Panels and street-level voting. You can adapt this model and experiment with it if you want to. Here are several things you could do as part of this activity:
If you are an individual citizen, let us know what you think of this model. Is this a good way to make our decisions?
If you are part of a local authority, you could test this model in your area, to decide what to do with statues or place-names. Does it work? What problems do you run into, and how can we protect against them?
If you are a school, you could try putting together a mock citizen panel. How does it go? What lessons can you pass on from the experience?
Citizens Assembly, Citizen Juries and Citizen Panels are now being used in many contexts where public bodies need to make decisions on a) topics that are contentious, and b) topics that may affect different stakeholders in very different ways. A Citizen-based model increases the chance the diverse social impacts are taken into account. It also increases democratic legitimacy and protects against the objection that decisions are being made by a distant elite. It gives fellow citizens greater confidence that their views have been taken into account, making people more likely to trust the fairness of the outcome. It may also function as a barometer for whether a community is ready for a given change.
Many reviews of contested heritage in the UK to date have been guided by the principle that decisions are best made by small panels of experts, such as a group of academics. However, findings from democratic theory suggest that when problems are hard and involve a large amount of socially distributed knowledge, then diverse groups of non-experts working in medium-sized groups tend to arrive at better solutions than a homogenous group of experts (Anderson, 2006). This is because such problems often involve a great deal of situated knowledge. For instance, statues and place names mean different things to different people, and meanings can be very local.
At the same time, it may be appropriate for ultimate decision-making to rest with the group of stakeholders most affected. In the case of street names, residents have a clear stake in outcomes so it may be appropriate for them to have a final say. It might be objected that the street residents should simply vote without the extra layer of the Citizen Panel. However, street residents are not the only stakeholders on these issues, which are highly political. Other people across the city have a legitimate interest in the decisions to keep or rename streets where this is being done for reasons of justice or values. Having input from the Citizen Panel will help street residents appreciate the perspective of the city, and understand how their decision may affect the wider community.
1) Imagine that a petition is brought forward to rename a street.
2) The Council assembles a Citizen Panel through a non-mandatory selection process similar to that of a jury. It is important that the panel have socioeconomic diversity, geographical diversity and be diverse with respect to protected characteristics (race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation etc). The make-up of the panel should be looked at carefully to ensure that it includes multiple representatives from key stakeholder groups.
3) Optional: The Citizen Panel and street residents get to know each other using structured activities like resources from Bridging Histories.
4) Optional: The Citizen Panel and street residents have a chance to discuss a resource like ‘Understanding and evaluating common arguments about contested heritage’ (coming soon!)
5) The Citizen Panel and street residents:
a. Hear arguments both for and against any proposed changes. It is important that both sides are represented, so it should be somebody’s job to lead representation for each side.
b. Hear expert testimony. Experts might testify on the contested figure’s life history and principal legacies, wider history, artistic significance (in case of a statue), circumstances of memorialization, demographic balance of commemorations in the area, practicalities and costs to the street or taxpayer, etc.
c. Receive written or oral evidence from the public (e.g. street residents).
d. Receive results from any preliminary inclusive consultation findings (see section on Inclusion, above.)
6) The Citizen Panel deliberate behind closed doors to ensure that members can speak freely. The panel come to a recommendation about the proposed change. They are supported to write up their recommendation in a 1- to 2-page report.
7) Their recommendation is shared with the street residents.
8) The street residents then get the final vote, with a super-majority of 75% required to change the name of a street.
9) An appeals process provides a chance for the decision to be reconsidered.
If the proposed change was to a council-owned statue or other object, instead of a street, then the decision could rest with the Council. In that case, the presumption would be that they would accept the panel suggestion, and if they went with an alternative then they would need to justify the decision on clear public grounds.
The panel could hear evidence on a group of objects instead of a single one, if several objects are being examined at once. The duties of a panel member could be time limited to a single review. Discussion would be governed by Chatham House rules, meaning that ideas can be reported but not attributed to individuals. The views and opinions of individuals on the citizen’s panel would be protected by confidentiality and any breach could lead to expulsion from the panel.
An alternative model would have the street residents acting as the panel. However, this has several downsides in terms of achieving democratic legitimacy, as explained in the rationale.
Another alternative would change step 6 by allowing street residents to listen in on the Citizen Panel discussion (aka a ‘fishbowl’ model). This would give them more of a chance to understand how their decision might be seen by a wider public.
The size of the panel might vary depending on resources. One model would have a small panel of 10 - 12 individuals. In someplace like Bristol, the process might instead use the city’s long-running citizen panel, which has 1400 members.
The role of the public body
The panel would be convened and administered by the public body and regulated by a Terms of Reference written by the public body and agreed by the panel. The local authority or other public body would be responsible for administering the panel and if they were owners of the object would be responsible for taking the final decision, subject to appeals and the call-in powers of the Secretary of State. Where the decision of the public body deviated from the recommendations of the citizens panel, it would be incumbent on the public body to justify this deviation, according to a set of pre-defined criteria (e.g. carrying out the recommendation would be unlawful, negative impact on social cohesion etc).
The panel could be adapted to encompass a broader scope. As a city-wide ‘citizen’s panel for culture’, the group could make recommendations on new public art commissions, comment on grant awards and deliberate on other cultural matters.
In summary, incorporating the use of Citizen’s Panels, pioneered in Bristol and elsewhere, can strengthen the link between the engagement, deliberation, and decision-making stages of an inclusive reviews process. Bringing different perspectives together for the purposes of democratic deliberation is beneficial in that it helps develop respectful civic discourse, leading to decisions that can be owned by the community.
 Elizabeth Anderson ‘The Epistomology of Democracy’ Episteme: A Journal of Social Epistemology, Volume 3, Issue 1-2, 2006, pp. 8-22 (Article) Edinburgh University Press
 An example structure for a general citizen’s panel (used to regularly consult on council services) can be found here:https://www.involve.org.uk/resources/methods/citizens-panel
The Colston Dialogues
How did you feel when Edward Colston’s statue was toppled in June 2020? Did you think it was right for the statue to come down? How do you think other people felt, and why? Is it possible for people with different political views to come to shared understandings?
Read and discuss these dialogues to explore different views about the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol. What do you find yourself assuming about the speakers? Imagine a different person speaking, instead - say, somebody of a different ethnicity, gender and age. Does this change how you hear their argument? Try writing your own dialogue, and a rhetorical question to go with it. Extend the dialogue. Imagine turning it into a play. Can these two people come to an understanding?
“I was euphoric when the statue came down.”
“Really? I was horrified!”
“For me it felt like a great weight lifted. It was poetic justice, seeing it go in the harbour where those ships sailed.”
How did you feel when Colston's statue was toppled?
"Everybody today knows slavery is an evil. But this is our history.”
“Statues don’t teach history. They honour people.”
“Colston’s statue *has* taught me history. When I see it, I reflect on the bad things and feel grateful for the good.”
What is the purpose of statues and memorials?
“I grew up being told in school that Colston was great. If you questioned that, you were shut down.”
“I’m sure your teachers were trying to do the right thing.”
“I feel they were protecting an old-fashioned idea of Britain’s past.”
Have you ever changed your mind about a political issue? What prompted your new thinking?
“The statue should have come down years ago, through legal means.”
“But people had been calling for change for decades and nothing was happening.”
“You can't just take the law into your own hands. What if we all did that every time we disagreed with something?”
Is it ever right to break the law? Why or why not?
“It's a slippery slope. Should we pull down the schools and almshouses?”
“Of course not. It's about making places we can all celebrate.”
“I feel like I can't move these days without getting jumped on by woke worthies.”
Do you think people can connect across political differences?
“I’ve learned more about Britain's history and its role in slavery since the statue came down than I did in a lifetime before.”
“It makes me think about how we live today”.
“Yes, what will we be remembered for?”
How will our generations be remembered in 250 years?