Letter: Protect history, but understand history is not static

Posted 8/6/20

With the firestorm that has followed the publication of Zachary Cooper’s racist and painfully misinformed letter several weeks ago, I thought I would offer my voice to the conversation of …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Not a subscriber?


Start a Subscription

Sign up to start a subscription today! Click here to see your options.

Purchase a day pass

Purchase 24 hours of website access for $2. Click here to continue

Day pass subscribers

Are you a day pass subscriber who needs to log in? Click here to continue.


Letter: Protect history, but understand history is not static

Posted

With the firestorm that has followed the publication of Zachary Cooper’s racist and painfully misinformed letter several weeks ago, I thought I would offer my voice to the conversation of hateful symbols. I can only offer my perspective through my education in history and museum studies, a field in which I have recently earned my Master’s degree. You might say that I am one of those “protectors of ‘historic fabric’ ” that Mr. Cooper mentioned.

First and foremost and above all else — history is not static.

History is a timeline, a series of events that have shaped us to this day and will continue to shape us into the future. Study it, enjoy it, but also remain critical of it. There are many things in our history of which we should not be proud — Bristol was a center of the slave trade — and it is only right that these symbols of hate be addressed today.

It is not an act of “cultural suicide” to remove a racist statue or to amend a word that carries with it generations of pain. Changing the artifacts of history to suit our present takes into account the cultural sensitivities of which we are now aware.

If there is a place for any of these hateful symbols it is in a museum, where their context can be explained and understood but not championed. They are symbols of a vicious, dirty past, where many members of our society were not afforded respect, a past that has stained our culture today with continued prejudices. The perfect place for them would be behind Plexiglas cases, where they would be understood as part of the past.

It pains me to think that individuals see history as a perfect ideal, a past that we cannot criticize or change to suit our present. It is not a curio to place on the mantle and be admired with no ounce of reflection. That is a dangerous ideology.

History will be fine. We are free to shape it, to learn from it. It should not be erased, but that does not mean that hate should be publicly broadcasted, with no context to challenge it.

And, well, if you cannot find issues with our history, then it is not my duty to educate you. It is all around you if you know where to look. And if you do know and yet still see no issue, I can help you even less.

So, yes, I protect history, but that does not mean I simply close my eyes and disavow the present. To do so would shame my field of study and the society which it serves.

By all means tear down the crest. Maybe you think you were being smart when saying this, perhaps even sassy, but it really is a wonderful idea. When shall we start?

Elisabeth Iacono
Bristol

2020 by East Bay Newspapers

Barrington · Bristol · East Providence · Little Compton · Portsmouth · Tiverton · Warren · Westport
Meet our staff
Mike Rego

Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.