Standing up for history

To The Sunday Times

In 1960s Oxford I would see Cecil Rhodes’s statue, think how wrong he was and walk on. That is life in an open, tolerant country: bits of our history are sticking up everywhere, and we are free to admire, condemn or laugh at them. I prefer that to a country in which public art has to conform to a prevailing ideology.

Mike Lynch, Cambridge

Quite right!  I don’t much like the deeds of Cecil Rhodes, but to take away his statue is petty and narrow minded.  Yesterday came news that a statue dedicated to the explorers Lewis and Clark is being removed because their Indian guide, Sacagawea, is represented as being in an inferior position.  Quite rightly the story is that Lewis and Clark wouldn’t have found the Mississippi without her. That is true. It is also a disagreeable fact that all women were in inferior positions in those days. Unfortunately that fact is also part of the American story.

If you excise every bit of history you don’t like you will have no history.  If you don’t know where you come from and how you got here,  you will have no hope of knowing where you are going.  Epicurus did not much like the narrow- minded.

What we sorely need is more people with a knowledge of history, a subject that educates you on the behavior and motivation of human beings. It might stop some of the stupid things our leaders  do.


  1. I suggest a compromise. Keep the statue, but it should be accompanied by a plaque detailing his racist views and role in conquering Zimbabwe. Or failing that, Oriel College should poll its students and staff, and go with whatever they decide.

  2. A plaque sounds a better option to me, wording determined by a group of historians who are familiar with the activities of Rhodes, can be honest but nonetheless place him in the context of his era.

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