A public lecture that raised questions about race, memory, monuments, and heritage – what a treat! Last Tuesday (12 July) I rode my bike into the wonderful old drill hall occupied by the Royal Historical Society of Victoria. My goal was the annual Bernard Bailyn Lecture on North American History, sponsored by La Trobe University. This year the guest speaker was Dr James Grossman, the Executive Director of the American Historical Association.
James spoke about the large number of Confederate memorials in the United States – including schools and university named after Confederate generals as well as statues, plaques and monuments. In recent times these have emerged as sites of tension seen by some as symbols of racism that should be removed but viewed by others as representing Southern pride and commemorating military skill and heroism (regardless of the cause). Those wanting to protect and celebrate these memorials, James argued, often evoked a notion of ‘heritage’ that mythologized the past and was impervious to historical evidence.
Question time was an energetic affair, with the seventy people in attendance actively engaging with many of the issues that James had raised. A big thank you to Holly Wilson, a PhD student from La Trobe University, for organising such a thought-provoking event.