Monuments on trial: #BlackLivesMatter, ‘travelling memory’ and the transcultural afterlives of empire

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The #BlackLivesMatter protests in Australia in 2020 at the monument of Captain Cook erupted amid the toppling of monuments all over the United States and the United Kingdom, as part of a highly mobile wave of transnational activism. Such protests, I argue, compel us to look beyond national frameworks to the transnational or ‘transcultural’ politics of memorialisation and mediatised protest, and to examine the ways in which public monuments can be placed on trial and re-storied in theatrical and performative spaces of creative protest that draw on modern discourses of justice and the idiom of human rights. This article examines two protests at monuments as case studies–the figure of slaver Edward Colston in Bristol that was pulled down by #BLM protestors, and, 25 years earlier, the figure of John Batman in Melbourne who was put on trial by Aboriginal activists. Through these cases I consider concepts of ‘travelling’, ‘transcultural’, and ‘multidirectional’ memory, and argue for recognising the generative nature of ‘mnemonic movements’ in order to understand the forms of political translation which occur within these dense, discursively packed protests that are too often deemed separate (e.g. ‘colonialism’ and ‘slavery’). Such approaches offer ways to understand the #BLM protests, as well as others where the fluid interplay between the local and the global, and bloody histories of slavery, settler colonialism, the Holocaust and other forms of mass violence occurs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)801-822
Number of pages22
JournalHistory Australia
Issue number4
Early online date23 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Indigenous
  • memorials
  • memory
  • protest


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