the public does not want to erase British history


The good people of Sheffield decided they preferred to keep the names of the streets which commemorate individuals associated by activists with the slave trade and other imperial enterprises. Some people would be tainted with a family association, including Gladstone, who also supported compensation for slave owners after abolition – but would abolition have been politically possible without this hugely expensive concession? Even George Canning, who opposed abolition, is acceptable to the citizens of Sheffield. The culture of cancellation prevails wherever activists have the chance; but the public just don’t want it.

The sheer pointlessness of removing names should be, but never is, obvious to activists. If the names of people are forgotten, what will happen to the memory of the acts with which they are accused? In fact, it is physically impossible to excise their names. Take the case of libraries. In Oxford, the Fellows of All Souls, which include some of the smartest people in the country, seem to have forgotten that every book acquired before Codrington’s name was taken from the large library he endowed bears his name on the ‘ex-libris. Meanwhile, Codrington College in Barbados, which he founded in hopes of benefiting Afro-Caribbean people, has no plans to rename himself.

Another library under pressure to change its name is the Seeley Historical Library in Cambridge, by far the best undergraduate history library in the country. While Codrington Library is housed in one of Oxford’s most magnificent buildings, the Seeley is now housed in a hideous structure designed by James Stirling in the 1960s. It was created by the Professor of History Regius of the 19th century, Sir John Seeley. This has long been forgotten, apart from his remark that the British Empire was acquired “in a fit of mindlessness”, and one would have thought that his adversaries would simply accept that he had fallen. passed out in the dark. No student has ever noticed that his motto, engraved on the glass doors of the library, is IMPERIUM ET LIBERTAS, “Empire and Liberty”, but of course even elementary Latin was not required to be admitted to Cambridge. for over half a century. Should each volume have all of its book pads solemnly wiped off with cleaning fluid?

What happens when activists expand everything upwards, from Codrington and Seeley to bigger institutions? There is no known evidence that his name deters people from applying to Imperial College. History was circulating that at the time of the proposed (and failed) merger with University College London, Imperial negotiators proudly argued that the new institution should adopt a name for each college – Imperial de Imperial and College de Imperial. UCL.

All of this is a great opportunity for branding companies. When I put those two words into Google, I was informed that there were 1,870,000,000 relevant sites. Granted, the industry is a bit smaller than that; but the passion for rebranding is based on a false premise, as I realized this week while walking the streets of Cambridge. The current fashion among students is for quilted jackets that don’t have a horrible college logo (my own college uses a silhouette of its famous gate of honor) but a good old-fashioned crest.

In any case, none of this is of great solace to the residents of my own street, Trafalgar Street, if Nelson and his accomplishments are deemed unacceptable. No one will pay me for the time and effort to notify every website, office or institution around the world where my address is registered; and the Cambridge Post Office dragon who recently, defying Royal Mail rules, refused to deliver a package addressed to my wife because I showed her a utility bill in my name, but not hers, will have even more reasons to hang on to mail addressed to a street that no longer exists. And this problem will then be reproduced thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of times, in homes, stores and offices across the country.

Since the public opposes changing street names, new, politically correct names will have to be imposed from above. How long will they be considered acceptable? The Russian case is instructive: Stalingrad has already disappeared from the world map, and Peter the Great has reconquered Leningrad. The best way to deal with people and events whose reputations are in question today is actually to preserve their names so that their admirers can admire and their detractors can revel in the sinister pleasure they find in the game. denigration.


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