Salzburg Global Helps Launch New Landmark Publication on Contested Histories

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Feb 24, 2021
by Salzburg Global Seminar
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Salzburg Global Helps Launch New Landmark Publication on Contested Histories

The book was produced in cooperation with the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation and the International Bar Association The volume’s co-editors, practitioners, and scholars took part in a webinar to launch the publication

Salzburg Global Seminar has helped launch a new landmark publication called Contested Histories in Public Spaces: Principles, Processes, Best Practices.

The book results from a joint project between Salzburg Global, the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation (IHJR), and the International Bar Association (IBA).

It is also the first volume of case studies produced through Contested Histories in Public Spaces, a multi-year initiative to address controversies over statues, memorials, street names, and other representations of disputed historical legacies in public spaces.

The book, aimed at policymakers, presents 10 case studies and discusses their significance, interpretations, and possible remedies. Examples include disputes over Christopher Columbus, Edward Colston, Robert E Lee, and Cecil Rhodes.

On February 11, 2021, a webinar took place to mark the book launch. Timothy W Ryback, director and co-founder of the IHJR, chaired the event. Introductory remarks came from Mark Ellis, executive director of the IBA, and Baroness Usha Prashar, a crossbench member of the House of Lords and chair of the Contested Histories Taskforce.

During the webinar, an audience heard from the volume’s co-editors, practitioners, and scholars. Speakers included Lamberto Zannier, former OSCE high commissioner on national minorities; Harriet Senie, member of the New York City Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers; Shahid Vawda, a professor of African and gender studies at the University of Cape Town; Lecia Brooks, the chief of staff at the Southern Poverty Law Center; Joanna Burch-Brown, a senior lecturer in philosophy at the University of Bristol, and commissioner for the We Are Bristol History Commission; Marti Burgess, a lawyer and chair of Black South West Network; and Klaus Kraatz, a vice-chair of the IBA’s Art, Cultural Institutions, and Heritage Law Committee.

Benjamin Glahn, vice president and chief operating officer at Salzburg Global, gave closing remarks from Schloss Leopoldskron. Read an edited copy of his comments below.

“Before we officially close our webinar today, let me start by thanking the speakers, panelists, moderators, as well as the Contributors and Task Force members of the Contested Histories project who have guided and informed this work over the last three years. This project and the book being launched today, which we believe represents the most globally comprehensive and insightful work on contested histories in public spaces that exist at present, have only been possible because of their commitment and dedication.

“We would also like to thank those in the background that aren’t on screen today – the staff and interns of the IHJR, the communications and publication staff of the IBA, and to my colleagues at Salzburg Global that have helped make this project possible.

“There is one person in particular that deserves special praise, however, and that is the Project Director of the Contested Histories Project, Marie-Louise Jansen, who has perhaps done more than anyone else to realize this publication and this project. Her tireless devotion and intellectual contributions run throughout every aspect of this work and every page of this book.

“In closing, let me offer a few reflections about this project and from the event today.

“As Mark and Usha said at the start, “history has its eyes on us,” and as it does, the fundamental responsibility that those watching eyes entail is that we learn from examples of contested histories and contested monuments about how best to redress historical injustice, honor and recognize the fullest expression of diversity in our societies, and build more cohesive and inclusive historical narratives for the future.

“Through this project, we have been continuously reminded that nation-states and societies are formed through competing notions of identity and conflicting expressions of history, but they are forged and sustained through a constant struggle for a collective understanding of the past, and a shared vision of the future.

“We hope that the principles, processes, and best practices contained in this book are also a reminder that developing a collective understanding of the past and a shared vision of the future is not possible without first tracing the roots of historical injustice.

“On a global level, this project has shown that contested histories and the deep and complicated struggles over monuments, statues, street names, and sites of remembrance, are best understood in the context of that necessary and unending struggle for the most complete, accurate, and truthful expression of cultural and national identity that is possible.

“This project, and the publication being launched today, is therefore fundamentally about how best to trace the roots of historical injustice and to realize our collective obligation to history’s watching eyes:

  • An obligation to factual, truthful, inclusive, and complete historical narratives;   
  • An obligation to redressing historical injustice by engaging multiple voices to uncover the complete truth of the past, no matter how uncomfortable;
  • An obligation to inclusive additions to our historical and commemorative landscapes that reveal and uphold histories that have remained hidden or untold for too long;
  • And, an obligation to recast public spaces in ways that enable diverse communities to see themselves in our commemorative landscapes while engaging artists to reflect the fullness of our histories and giving artists a role in the determination of future historical narratives.

“Finally, this project has shown that this work not only requires a willingness to confront, address, and redress uncomfortable historical truths, but that it requires a broad coalition of individuals and institutions working together to understand the issues and tectonic shifts that are reshaping historical narratives around the world.

“This work, and this project, has therefore sought to include academics, historians, lawyers, judges, artists, policymakers, and activists in a serious and sustained effort to listen, consult, and understand the complexities of these historical contestations.”

To watch the webinar in full or buy the book, please visit https://www.ibanet.org/contested-histories.aspx