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John Muir: Statues and Trail Names

Subject area: Social Studies

Experience and Outcomes: SOC 2-02a, SOC 2-10a, SOC 2-15a, SOC 2-16b, SOC 3-15a

Since 2020, there has been much debate around statues, public monuments and street names that remember or glorify people involved in trans-Atlantic slavery and colonisation. John Muir's work is remembered in many ways today. There are memorials and statues to John Muir across Scotland and North America, as well as streets, parks, trails and schools all named after Muir(this link will open in a new window) in remembrance of his positive contribution to modern conservation. Plants, animals, and even a small planet are also named in his honour.

Muir is remembered in museums, awards, and school classes as a benevolent man who wandered in the wild and sought to conserve nature. But John Muir did hold racist views against Black people and Native Americans. This article in (this link will open in a new window)The Guardian briefly explains Muir's views, but you can find out more in Essential Muir: A Selection of Muir's Best (and Worst) Writings edited by Fred D White. This article by the Sierra Club (this link will open in a new window)explores Muir's racist views and those of other founders of the Sierra Club, a club dedicated to protecting 'wild' places in the USA. Muir was a key founding member.

This learning activity will encourage pupils to consider who we commemorate and why. It will also encourage them to think critically about how we have conversations about individuals from history who we have memorialised.

Learning activity

Watch and learn

Videos are a valuable and engaging tool for contextualising your learning. We recommend sharing one of the following videos with your class to start:

Research and discussion

After sharing one or more of these videos with pupils, ask them to research street names and statues in your local area and ask the question: who is remembered and why? Are there any streets or parks named after John Muir? Pupils could physically visit these sites and locations, creating a small video similar to that made for BBC Social, or plan a route and research online. Questions for pupils to consider when looking at streets or monuments are:

Museum exhibition activity

In his video, David Olusoga argues that the rightful place for many of these statues is a museum, where their complex histories can be told. Ask pupils to imagine that the streets signs and statues they have researched are now in their local museum. They are going to curate a mini-exhibition about these objects. They must write a museum label for each item and create a small pamphlet for visitors. What history and stories would pupils like to tell visitors about these objects? Ask pupils to work in small groups to write the labels and pamphlet and then share them with the class. You could also invite other classes to visit the mini-exhibition in your classroom.

Reflecting on learning:

Learners can: