by Brian Murray, Senior Lecturer in Nineteenth-Century Literature, King’s College London
The toppling of the statue of slave trader and MP Edward Colston during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Bristol on 7th June has led to a predictable wave of outrage at the ‘erasure of history’. But what kinds of history might a statue be said to embody or project? The Colston statue was 125 years old. But it is also an idealised late-Victorian representation of seventeenth-century subject (unveiled 174 years after Colston’s death). What did Colston mean to Bristolians in 1895? Contemporary reports of the statue’s erection in the Bristol Mercury – accessed via the British Library Newspapers database – offer a glimpse of the new monument at its first unveiling. Continue reading Erasing History? Colston in Bristol→
by Clare Pettitt, Professor of Nineteenth Century Literature and Culture, Department of English
“Dissent clearly varies in terms of seriousness”, says Ian Hislop, the guest curator of the British Museum’s new exhibition. It certainly does.I Object: Ian Hislop’s search for dissent throws together a peculiarly Hislopian blend of public school scatological gags and objects and images that record acts of resistance under totalitarian regimes that may have resulted in the torture and/or death of their makers. The stakes are vertiginously uneven, and as a result, the exhibition frequently runs into problems of tone.
As curator, we encounter a thoughtful and knowledgeable Hislop, respectful of other cultures and alert to injustice and cruelty in the world. But as presenter, we encounter more of a fnarr fnarr chortler: “Gillray knew what would sell a print – sex, the royal family and fashionable shoes”, he chuckles, or “Have workmen on building sites always been keen on sexual commentary?” It is an interesting problem. Amnesty International meets Finbarr Saunders meets the British Museum, and the result is often confusing, but never boring.
In 2016, Oxford Dictionaries selected ‘post-truth’ as its international word of the year. This November, Collins Dictionary chose the term ‘fake news’ as word of the year for 2017 from a shortlist featuring ‘echo chamber’, ‘antifa’, and ‘Corbynmania’. The head of language content at Collins explained that “much of this year’s list is definitely politically charged, but with a new president in the US and a snap election in the UK, it is perhaps no surprise that politics continues to electrify the language.”
It is clear that the swing to the far-right in the US and the UK has come to dominate the basic language through which we understand our political reality. The urgency that these developments lend to current research in literature and language – and across the humanities broadly – was the subject of a meeting of the King’s research cluster ‘Colonial, Postcolonial and Transnational Cultures’ earlier this year.
Comprising academic staff and postgraduate researchers from the English and Comparative Literature Departments, this cluster is organised around three overarching themes: the ‘coloniality’ of language; spatiality and geographies; and the ways in which violence, brutality, atrocity or torture might condition our research projects.