Reflections on Studying the Past – Meddyliau ar Astudio’r Gorffennol

The following is the second in our series of guest blog posts from History students exploring their experiences of creative assessment as part of their degrees. Hywel Squires is a Swansea University history graduate with an interest in heritage and museology

Anyone who has spent more than five minutes in my company will be aware of my passion for talking. So, when the opportunity arose to write, record and publish a podcast as part of my final assignment for the module HIH3377 A History of Sex and Gender, I jumped at the chance.

The module A History of Sex and Gender, convened and delivered by Dr Sarah Crook and Professor David Turner, explores sex and gender from the classical world and middle ages to the present day. The module sought to demonstrate how and why understandings and ideologies of sex, sexuality and gender have changed. Approached from an intersectional perspective, the module considered how class, gender, race and sexuality impacted the social, cultural, political and economic climate, which ultimately shaped modern-day conceptions of sex and gender.

For our final assessment, we were presented with three different options, each drastically different. Nevertheless, these all provided exciting opportunities to harness the information and skills learnt from the module while simultaneously developing skills relevant for future careers. The options consisted of a proposal to a local council for a statue of an under-recognised historical figure, to create a learning resource for primary/secondary school students about an aspect of gender history, and finally, to record a podcast about an element of gender history.

The current contention regarding public history and heritage, and specifically statues, coincided with my long withstanding interest surrounding heritage, so I decided to base my podcast on statues. I set out three key research aims: to discover why we, as a society, care so much about statues, to uncover how gender and the gendering of statues play a role in the way we commemorate individuals, and finally, to ask if there is a solution.

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Statues are designed with a purpose. They show who has power and reflect a particular version of history.  We care because they are physical manifestations of how we see ourselves. However, one fundamental problem among many is that almost all the statues across the UK and Wales are of men, mainly white men with national significance. However, I wanted to ensure my research went beyond a westernised perspective, thereby taking a globalised approach, to consider how communities from other times, places and cultures have engaged with statues.

Drawing on three examples across place and time, the podcast sought to demonstrate how communities have utilised statues of historic women to help determine if there are any lessons to be drawn on for the future. What I discovered, upon my findings and own reflections, was that I remained particularly unfond of statues. However, on a broader scale, this work helped me reflect on the type of meaning we place upon objects. Although statues, depending on time, place and culture, have occasionally been established to promote underrepresented populations, statues in Westernised cultures continue to be dominated by, well, usually pretty terrible people. The pain and trauma attached to these statues are difficult to mitigate, regardless of how we reapproach, reinterpret or contextualise them. This leads to the bigger question: for marginalised communities, for women, for women of colour, for trans people, does erecting statues provide an opportunity to challenge hegemonic approaches to commemoration, or is this the time to do what marginalised communities do best: reinvent?

If you would like to listen to the podcast, you can check it out here: https://anchor.fm/hywel39/episodes/Statues-e11cgdi

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