UPDATE: I thought I might get around to doing a separate post with photos from my time earlier this week in Edinburgh, but that never happened. So I’ve added a few photos, without any comment beyond the captions, to the end of this post. – DJB, October 8, 2022
Recently, I wrote of how one historian delineates between history and heritage. In that piece I quoted Jeffrey Webb as he outlined important distinctions between the two. History, Webb noted, is all that “happened in the past that we find to be meaningful and significant, and it presupposes a ‘warts and all’ approach.” History involves making people feel uncomfortable when their cherished myths are exposed as falsehoods.” Heritage is “something else entirely.” Webb notes that it is the part of history that we in the present “choose to commemorate and celebrate in our communities” with statues, parades, special holidays and the like. As I noted earlier, the head of a prestigious local historical center liked to say that “heritage is history without the hard parts.”
I saw a great example of this earlier this week in Edinburgh.
I’m in Scotland for a conference and spent a day in Edinburgh before catching the train to Dundee (more on that tomorrow). My hotel was on St. Andrew Square, in the heart of the city. And right outside my window, I could see this monument.
As I walked over to get a closer look, I saw this sign.
As you can see at the top, this piece of heritage — something that was erected at a point in time to commemorate Lord Melville — has being updated to recognize his role in delaying the abolition of the slave trade.
In the book I reviewed last month, Professor Webb looked at the issue of the removal of Confederate statues and notes that instead of “destroying” our history, what we are doing is readjusting that part of the past that we are choosing in the present to commemorate and celebrate. “The statues and the public monuments are not history, but heritage, and heritage is constantly changing and shifting as each generation chooses what part of the past it wishes to celebrate in the present.”
The Melville monument in Edinburgh is a perfect example.
History, as I said in the title to my earlier piece, is always under construction.
More to come…
Image of Sir Walter Scott in Edinburgh, Scotland by DJB
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