Monday 22 February 2021
Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology statement on the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport heritage summit
As the leading professional society in the United Kingdom and Europe for the archaeology of the modern world from AD 1500 to the present, the Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology [SPMA] has taken a close interest in the recent debates arising from the interpretation of the complex legacies of the British Empire. Although we are not one of the organisations involved, SPMA is also aware that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport [DCMS] has invited 25 heritage bodies in England to “discuss contested heritage”, and how to put the government’s new ‘retain and explain’ policy for contested monuments into practice in England.
SPMA members embrace a range of perspectives on these important debates, and as a professional society we do not endorse a specific approach. However, we firmly believe that inquiry into the archaeological and historical evidence of the past benefits from robust and open discussion. We also believe that it is not the role of a government in a free and democratic society to set an official, government-approved approach to history, or to mandate how the past should be interpreted. We agree entirely with Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden’s recent statement to government backbenchers that “we should use heritage to educate people about Britain’s rich and complex history” and that “this work should never be driven be ideology”. However, by summoning heritage bodies to a DCMS summit to promote a specific government-sponsored approach to the interpretation of the past driven by the political agendas of the governing party, Mr Dowden risks precisely what he objects to – using ideology to drive the interpretation of the past.
The Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology therefore fully supports the editorial independence of heritage bodies in England over how they approach the interpretation of the past, and urges DCMS not to use a party-political agenda to drive these important debates.
Alasdair Brooks, President