About Contested Histories

The Contested Histories Initiative (CHI) studies disputes over statues, street names, and other historical legacies in public spaces with an aim to identify principles, processes and best practices for decision-makers, civil society advocates, and educators confronting the complexities of divisive historical memory.

CHI is jointly managed by the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation and EuroClio – European Association of History Educators and works in cooperation with a number of other organisations, including Salzburg Global Seminar, the International Bar Association and the Memory Studies Association. The Contested Histories Initiative operates under the auspices of an international Task Force and an Academic Committee.

Why Contested Histories?

Over the past several years, there has been growing public controversy over contested historical legacies on university campuses and in public spaces in towns and cities worldwide. The Rhodes Must Fall movement that began in Cape Town, South Africa, and the controversy over the statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, in the United States are but two examples. Most contestations occur at the municipal or institutional level, where the physical representations of historical legacies are encountered on a daily basis, whether in the form of statues, street names, building names, monuments, memorials or emblems and symbols.

Conflict over interpretations of history span a range of issues, including legacies of slavery, fascism, communism, colonialism, inter-ethnic tensions, mass human rights abuses and other relevant subjects. In almost all cases, calls for removing statues, renaming streets, and reframing school or university curricula are symptomatic of deeper divisions within societies.

Confronted with public protests, street demonstrations, and social media campaigns, decision-makers have often responded in haste, sometimes in a panic, and more often than not without the benefit of established principles, processes or best practices, resulting in remedies that are sometimes inadequate, ineffective or arbitrary with potentially long-term, unintended consequences.

What do we do?

CHI seeks to learn from these complex and divisive histories to build a more just and equal world. We do this by providing reliable information, drawing ‘lessons learned’ and identifying ‘relevant practices and policies’ that can be used to inform decisions on contested histories, and by developing educational resources that demonstrate the complexity of the histories and raise awareness of the issues at stake.