Tag Archives: memorial spaces

Colonial Memories Re-Ignited: In Producing the Streets and Rhodes, One Stone Remains Unturned

By Julian Shaw, King’s College London

Oriel College bird’s eye view from University church. Image Credit: Arnaud Malon

Every day people walking past Oriel College on High Street in Oxford are confronted with a statue of Cecil Rhodes; a man heavily involved in the creation of enforced racial segregation in South Africa. As part of a global protest movement called ‘Rhodes Must Fall’, which began in South Africa in March 2015, a group of students at Oxford University have mobilised, calling for the statue to be removed. Toppling the stone Rhodes, they feel, would indicate that the seeds of progress are being sown in a battle against continuing racial inequality at Oxford university (The Guardian, 2015). However, despite this cause, on 29th January 2016 it was announced by Oxford University that the statue shall remain (The Guardian, 2016).

Benwell (2016), in his recent article for Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, turned his attention on how everyday memories form geopolitical subjectivity. His specific empirical case was young people living on the Falkland Islands, and their engagement with memories etched into the social and physical landscape. Using this discourse when looking at Oriel college, one is able to ponder the presence of the Cecil Rhodes statue and consider how it plays a continually evolving role in the geopolitical memories of those who encounter it.

The statue in Oriel College is not new; it was erected with the construction of the Rhodes Building in 1911 from funds left to the college by Cecil Rhodes himself. Therefore we can assume that in the past the statue was probably missed or completely ignored by the majority of people who passed it – indeed no one is claiming that until last year all people walking along High Street silently condoned the statue’s existence. However the success of the Rhodes Must Fall movement, bringing the issues of an ongoing racist colonial history to international consciousness, has meant that the presence of the statue has been elevated. This elevation has enabled the revival of memories of a horrific colonial past to be found; engaging new geopolitical subjectivities. But now that the University has made its decision to keep the statue, what does this mean for the Rhodes Must Fall movement?

Arguing about whether it was right or wrong for the University to keep the statue will not help develop this narrative. Instead we should consider; what is revealed by the decision of the University to keep it? Lefebvre (1991) indicated in his work The Production of Space that all spaces are always actively produced by those who either perceive, conceive, or live the space. Here we have, on one side, a University controlling the space through its decision to keep the statue – creating the representation of space – and on the other side a movement of students who are occupying this space on High Street – making it representational space. The inability of the Rhodes Must Fall movement to remove the statue, indicates that despite appearing in the space they are fundamentally alienated from the construction of this space. Those controlling the space on the other hand, are able to impose upon these users their own representations of the space. Lefebvre warns that such impositions, by the controlling force of the University, will make “permanent transgression inevitable” (Lefebvre, 1991: 23) if the lived enactment of the space continues to be occupied by those alienated from its control.

The question is therefore; what future transgressions will we witness in the ongoing narrative of this statue? And importantly, will these transgressions establish a spatial legacy for the Rhodes Must Fall movement? A legacy memorialised with a permanence equivalent to a statue maybe? Removing the statue was never seen as an end to the discussion by any side in the debate. The story of this space is not finished.

References

books_icon Benwell, M. C., (2016) Encountering geopolitical pasts in the present: young people’s everyday engagements with memory in the Falkland Islands, Transaction of the Institute of British Geographers, Early View, DOI: 10.1111/tran.12109

books_icon Lefebvre, H., (1991) The Production of Space, London: Wiley-Blackwell

60-world2 The Guardian (2015) Oxford students step up campaign to remove Cecil Rhodes statue, Online Article (Accessed on 2nd February 2016)

60-world2 The Guardian (2016) Cecil Rhodes statue to remain at Oxford after ‘overwhelming support’, Online Article (Accessed on 2nd February 2016)

 

 

The Digital Gravestone: Technology, Temporality and Memorial

By Jen Turner

Less than a week ago, people across the world remembered events of 9/11 in all manner of ways, ranging from simple recognition of the date to a minute of silent reflection.  Two days later, Google illustrated a different take on memorialisation by displaying a tribute to German composer Clara Schumann, in the form of their infamous ‘Google Doodle’. 

A recent article in The Guardian considers how humans have always harnessed the latest technology to develop ingenious methods of memorialising people and events.   Here, Melanie King discusses the wealth of new enterprises available to the discerning mourner, including the transformation of cremated remains into diamonds or tattoos.  King also describes how age-old traditions have been dragged into the 21st Century using “hi-tech gimmickry”.  One Dorset-based funeral home offers the service of attaching a QR (quick response) barcode to a gravestone or memorial plaque.  This can then be scanned by a Smartphone, bringing “the deceased digitally to life” in the form of a full obituary and photographs at a cost of £300. 

Similarly, the BBC reported last year of the prevalence of tribute pages on sites like Facebook, particularly in cases where young people die suddenly.  Their report commented that, “with so many people having an online life, it seems appropriate that they are given a form of online funeral when they die”.  Online media has also stimulated other kinds of remembrance, such as the Twibbon Royal British Legion’s official poppy, which can be added to Twitter user pictures to commemorate war deaths.  As accessible and versatile as these technologies now are, King highlights an important criticism.  The advancement of technology means that today’s innovations may become obsolete tomorrow.  The digital gravestone relies on the continuity of the QR code, which could easily be replaced by something more ingenious.  What will then happen to those obituary memories and photographs trapped behind that barcode?

The temporality of memorials is discussed in a recent Area paper by Jenkings, Megoran, Woodward, and Bos (2012).  Here, focus is upon the processes of memorialisation in the English village of Wootton Bassett, which emerged as a site to honour British military personnel killed in action.  Located near to RAF Lyneham, cortèges carrying repatriated service-men and -women passed through the town, greeted by assembling masses of silent people.  The paper pays particular attention to the town as a place where contemporary engagements with militarism and the meanings of war are negotiated.  In contextualising this, Jenkings et al discuss the end of commemorative services following the repatriation of personnel to a different air base – highlighting the town as another ‘temporally variable’ space of death. 

Considering this in relation to the technological advancement of memorial practice, we can question the impact of creating memorial attachments to changeable objects and spaces. 

Jenkings, K.N., Megoran, N., Woodward, R. & Bos, D., 2012, Wootton Bassett and the political spaces of remembrance and mourning, Area 44.3 356-363

Remembrance in the internet age, BBC News, 11 November 2011

The digital gravestone, The Guardian, 9 September 2012

Content Alert: New Articles (2nd December 2011)

These Early View articles are now available on Wiley Online Library.

Original Articles

Experimental geopolitics: Wafaa Bilal’s Domestic tension
Alan Ingram
Article first published online: 30 NOV 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2011.00455.x

Commentary

Earthquake disasters and resilience in the global North: lessons from New Zealand and Japan
K Crowley (Nee Donovan) and J R Elliott
Article first published online: 28 NOV 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2011.00453.x

A royal encounter: space, spectacle and the Queen’s visit to Ireland 2011
Nuala C Johnson
Article first published online: 28 NOV 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2011.00454.x

Original Articles

Disciplined mobility and carceral geography: prisoner transport in Russia
Dominique Moran, Laura Piacentini and Judith Pallot
Article first published online: 28 NOV 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00483.x