Statues for memory? Public space and colonialism

Summer School
Paris, 27th-28th of June 2023

Call for participants


Since at least 2015, when the social movement #RhodesMustFall began at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, statues of people involved in colonial slavery and in imperial expansion have been contested all over the world. Such contestations achieved an unprecedented level of public salience, during the “Black Spring” of 2020 (Kelley 2022), first in France, where Martinican statues of the political liberal Victor Schoelcher underwent fresh attacks and, subsequently in the UK, where, during the social movement #BlackLivesMatter, the statue of human-traffiker and local philanthropist Edward Colston was toppled and thrown into Bristol Harbour. From the other end of the political spectrum, there were also attacks on statues of anticolonial figures such the statue of Abdelkader in Amboise in 2022. This culture of iconoclasm is the subject of numerous societal and media debates, and of a growing number of academic works. The Franco-British project Cast in Stone is designed specifically to address these current and ongoing debates over statues or monuments that have links to the colonial histories of France and Britain. We are working to create a public archive of the biographies of contested statues or monuments, by bringing to light the trajectories of these objects, the events that shape their existence, the contestations that transform them, and the perspectives of the people who contest or defend them.

Cast in Stone explores exactly what colonial statues or monuments express when situated in public spaces(Anderson and Pildes 2000) and how they participate in shaping our lived social space in France and in the UK. Their function of commemoration of the past and celebration of values through the figure of great men go along with a sacralisation of these men, distinguished from the common crowd – or from the community – through artistic devices such as the plinth, the monumentality of the object, or the choice of the material (Lalouette 2021; Tillier 2022).  These statues have power: they wield the power of memory and they embody, express, perpetuate power relations. To make sense of this power, Cast in Stone weaves together the perspectives of several different disciplines: for instance, art history sheds light on the creative strategies chosen for public statuary and their possible futures (Caillet 2017; Garcia 2020); sociology or political science provide analyses on the interactive effects of commemoration on the public and the possibilities of subjective reappropriation (Antichan, Gensburger, Teboul 2016); historical geography examines the performance of monuments in public space as well as the ways in which interactions between individuals shape that space (Johnson 1995), while history draws attention to the framing of memorial laws and policies (Ledoux, 2016, Gensburger & Lefranc, 2020 [2017]). From these interdisciplinary perspectives, the conceptual tools coined by Memory Studies are particularly useful. By speaking of “multidirectional memories”, we can bear witness to the fact that memories evolve over time, and are determined by contingencies, personal histories, and social inscriptions in their constitution, or their rhizomic character (Rothberg, 2010 ; Ledoux, 2012).


The Cast in Stone Summer-School is precisely interested in these processes via which memory is produced. Grounding our conversations in specific case studies, we will collectively wonder: what memory of colonialism do statues or monuments carry or produce? How is the understanding of the present times shaped by the acting on or in relation to these statues? and finally: what actions are available to the many different actors contesting or defending these monuments?

The aims of the Summer School are those defined for the Cast in Stone project: to facilitate dialogue around colonialism, critical heritage, public spaces and inclusive citizenship. We will achieve these aims by:

  • Sharing the theoretical and factual findings of Cast in Stone as materials for us all to work with.
  • Offering a theoretical training session to PhD students, in disciplines such as History, Art History, Museum Studies and Geography, looking to build their research and/or professional work around heritage and memory of colonialism.
  • Organising a guided tour of public sculptures in Paris.
  • Offering a brief lecture on laws governing public statuary and the legal tools for changing their destination, delivered by a legal scholar with extensive experience in working with art and artistic collections.
  • Engaging in an exchange of practices and experiences between different kinds of actors, practitioners, or professionals, who are concerned with the preservation of heritage, who are involved with the debates over colonial statues or, more broadly, about contested colonial heritage, in order to learn about each other’s points of view, about the professional and personal challenges we each face.
  • Exploring, through teamwork, alternative solutions to contestations in some specific cases, facilitated by experts in public art and museum practice.

Scientific Committee

  • Prof. Emmanuelle Sibeud, Historian, Paris 8 University
  • Prof. Nandini Chatterjee, Historian, University of Exeter
  • Dr Julie Marquet, Historian, Université Littoral Côte d’Opale
  • Dr Lise Puyo, Anthropologist, Labex Les passés dans le présent
  • Dr Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman, Historian of Ideas, University of Exeter
  • Dr Claire Garcia, Art Historian, Beaux-Arts de Paris
  • Prof. Alan Lester, Historical Geographer, University of Sussex
  • Dr Camille Mathieu, Art Historian, University of Exeter
  • Dr Anna Seiderer, Philosophe of arts/aesthetics, Paris 8 University
  • Prof. Nicola Thomas, Historical Geographer, Exeter University
  • Dr Andrea Wallace, Legal Scholar, University of Exeter

Venue and modalities of participation

The Summer school will be held in Paris, between 27th and 28th of June, 2023.

It is particularly aimed at doctoral students in the humanities and social sciences interested in memories of colonialism, but it is also open to early career academics, to activists or to professionals from the world of art and museology – the aim being to bring together and encourage exchanges between these different types of actors in the study of contested statues.

The Summer School will host twelve participants selected after the deadline of this call, over two days, combining visits, theoretical workshops (for which prior readings will be required), and exchanges with artists and museum professionals.

Discussions will be held in English and French; a translator will be present to facilitate them.

Accommodation and catering will be provided by Cast in Stone. Transportation costs will be borne by the participants – we will be able assist with travel costs by purchasing return train tickets to Paris  costing up to 200 euros per person. Those wishing to avail themselves of this support should make this clear in their application; allocations will be made on our assessment of need and relevance to the summer school, and until our budget is exhausted. We are not able to make cash grants or bank transfers; support will necessarily take the form of tickets purchased for the participant by the project team, and within a certain date.


Aldrich, Robert, Vestiges of Colonial Empire in France: Monuments, Museums and Colonial Memories, London, Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2011.

Anderson Elizabeth S. and Pildes, Richard H., “Expressive Theories of Law: A General Restatement”, University of Pennsylvania Law Review 148 (2000), 1503-1575.

Antichan Sylvain, Gensburger Sarah, and Teboul Jeanne, “La commémoration en pratique: les lieux sociaux du rapport au passé”, Matériaux pour l’histoire de notre temps, 3-4:121-122 (2016), 5-9.

Bouchet, Renaud, Tison, Stéphane, Lecossois, Hélène, and Letort, Delphine (eds.), Résurgences conflictuelles: le travail de mémoire entre art et histoire, Rennes, Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2021.

Caillet, Élisabeth, “Le monument d’Alger et Landowski”, in: Patrick Nardin (ed.), Archives au présent. Saint-Denis, Presses universitaires de Vincennes, 2017, pp. 113-120.

Célestine, Audrey, “Sous les statues, la crise. Les destructions de 2020 en Martinique”, Esprit 5 (2022), “Patrimoines contestés”, 75-83.

Fabbiano, Giulia, and Moumen, Abderahmen (eds.), Algérie coloniale. Traces, mémoires et transmissions, Paris, Le Cavalier Bleu, 2022.

Fabre, Daniel (ed.), Emotions patrimoniales, Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 2013.

Garcia, Claire, Monuments de l’entre-deux-guerres: sculpture et architecture, Mont-Saint-Aignan, Presses Universitaires de Rouen, 2020.

Johnson, Nuala, “Cast in stone: Monuments, Geography and Nationalism,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 13: 1 (1995), 51-65.

Kelley, Robin D.G., Freedom dreams: the Black radical imagination, Boston, Beacon Press, 2022.

Lafont, Anne, “Violences monumentales. Peut-on désarmer les symboles ?”, Esprit 5 (2022), “Patrimoines contestés”, 85-95. 

Lalouette, Jacqueline, Les statues de la discorde, Paris, Editions Passés/Composés, 2021. 

Ledoux, Sébastien, Le devoir de mémoire. Une formule et son histoire, Paris, CNRS éditions, 2016.

Ledoux, Sébastien, “Le ‘devoir de mémoire’, fabrique du postcolonial ? Retour sur la genèse de la ‘loi Taubira’”, Cahiers d’histoire. Revue d’histoire critique, 118 (2012), 117-130.  

Lefranc, Sandrine et Gensburger, Sarah, À quoi servent les politiques de mémoire? Paris, Presses de Sciences Po, 2017.

Lester, Alan, Deny and Disavow: Distancing Britain’s Imperial Past in the Culture Wars, London, SunRise, 2022.

Lotem, Itay, The memory of colonialism in Britain and France: the sins of silence, Cham, Palgrave Macmillan, 2021.

Rothberg, Michael, “Introduction: Between Memory and Memory: From Lieux de Mémoire to Noeuds de Mémoire”, Yale French Studies, 118/119 (2010), 3–12.

Solbiac, Rodolphe, La destruction des statues de Victor Schoelcher en Martinique : l’exigence de réparations et d’une nouvelle politique des savoirs, Paris, l’Harmattan, 2020.

Tillier, Bertrand, La disgrâce des statues: essai sur les conflits de mémoire, de la révolution française à Black Lives Matter, Paris, Editions Payot & Rivages, 2022.


Applications should be sent to before 15th February 2023 with the following documents, for an answer before the 28th of February 2023:

  • A concise CV (2 pages maximum);
  • A brief cover letter stating the reasons for interest in the project and any connections with the candidate’s prior work;
  • If needed, a request for support with train tickets.