Are monument topplers so pure that they won’t be cancelled, too? By Professor Robert Tombs

The vexed question of memorial plaques and statues continues to play itself out. Not, this time, through the actions of a rampaging mob on Bristol’s river-front but in polite exchanges between respected academics in the cloistered environs of Cambridge University.


In one sense the contrast could not be more marked: where Coulston’s statue was wrenched from its plinth and hurled into the river, a similar, if less undignified fate may befall the memorial plaque of Tobias Rustat, one of the Jesus College’s principal benefactors.


Unrelated in every other respect, both monuments now represent symbolic casualties in a culture war which threatens to spiral out of control.


Professor Robert Tombs of Cambridge University and head of History Reclaimed, challenges the justification for such actions:


“At issue is our relationship with the past. Can we honestly judge the dead by our own sometimes very recent standards? Who are those who claim to sit in judgment, and why?


Then there are utilitarian questions, which for some are far more important: public image above all, and the sometimes contrary concern not to alienate present and future benefactors. I believe the main opposition to quietly removing the Rustat memorial does indeed come from former students of Jesus College who are or might become donors. Why should they give money to an institution that can brusquely decide to “cancel” those who fund it?”


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