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Britain’s imperial past has featured prominently in the culture wars, which have reached a new level of intensity in the UK since Black Lives Matter protestors dumped Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol harbour last year. In this paper we outline the main culture war ‘battlegrounds’ in memorialisation, heritage, Parliament, the Commission on Racial Equality and Diversity and academia. Then we try to move beyond the militaristic, winner-takes all, language of the culture war to discuss the project of reinterpreting a statue in Exeter using non-violent approaches.

Alan Lester is Professor of Historical Geography at the University of Sussex. His research considers the ways that Britons developed imperial governance, settler colonialism, and humanitarianism through networks which spanned the empire, whilst disavowing the racism and violence that underpinned Empire. Among other work, he is the author of A. Lester and F. Dussart (2014) Colonization and the Origins of Humanitarian Governance: Protecting Aborigines across the Nineteenth-Century British Empire (Cambridge University Press) and A. Lester, K. Boehme and P. Mitchell (2021) Ruling the World: Freedom, Civilisation and Liberalism in the Nineteenth-Century British Empire (Cambridge University Press).


Nicola Thomas is Professor of Cultural and Historical Geography at the University of Exeter, and editor of the Journal of Historical Geography. Her research investigates postcolonial geographies of gender, race and empire; cultural and humanities perspectives on the creative economy; histories of geography and science; and gendered labour practices in higher education. Recent books include, N. Thomas and S. Luckman (eds) (2018) Crafting Economies: Contemporary Cultural Economies of the Handmade (Bloomsbury Academic) and C. Brace, A.R. Bailey, D.C. Harvey, N. Thomas and S. Carter (eds) (2011) Emerging Geographies of Belief (Cambridge Scholars).

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