adelman5_ PARKER MICHELS-BOYCEAFP via Getty Images_statue removed Parker Michels-Boyce/AFP via Getty Images

The New History Wars

The movement to remove public monuments to imperialists and slave owners is now in full swing. But to satisfy its stated purpose, those demanding recognition will have to meet their rivals halfway, acknowledging that it is not easy to see pillars of one's sense of identity become a source of shame.

PRINCETON – The contest over national symbols and stories is shifting into higher gear as the drive to topple statuary and rename institutions moves past the usual suspects of Cecil Rhodes, Woodrow Wilson, Confederate generals, and Belgium’s King Leopold II.

The British Museum, for example, has removed from prominent display a bust of its slave-owning founder, Sir Hans Sloane. “We have pushed him off the pedestal,” observes the museum’s director, Hartwig Fischer. Similarly, just a week earlier, a desecrated statue of Voltaire in Paris’s tony 6th arrondissement was whisked away for its own protection.

Everywhere, it seems, cultural artifacts that once hid in plain sight are being scrutinized for their connections to empire or slavery. But even when those deemed worthy of removal are gone, the Great Reckoning will not be over.