Traveller: More Than Just a Horse in the Era of Cancel Culture

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The concept of “cancel culture” has been both praised and vilified, evolving into a widespread phenomenon where individuals or entities face societal backlash for their beliefs, actions, or affiliations. Recently, an unexpected entity emerged in the discussion: Traveller, the esteemed horse of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. This article delves into the implications and broader context of the university’s recent actions concerning Traveller and what it reveals about our society’s evolving perspective on history. 

Key Points: 

  • Traveller, once a beloved horse of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, is facing a historical revision at Washington and Lee University. 
  • Plaques honoring Traveller have been removed from key locations, including his grave. 
  • “Cancel culture” typically targets individuals or entities, yet Traveller’s situation offers a different narrative. 
  • University representatives have stated that plaques are being relocated to a new exhibit set to open this fall. 
  • The legacy of Robert E. Lee remains contentious, with the university deciding against renaming despite multiple appeals. 

The historical significance of Traveller extends beyond being a mere mount. He became an emblematic figure, intertwined with Lee’s own legacy. The removal of plaques dedicated to the horse at Washington and Lee University in Virginia has reignited discussions on the interpretation of history and the line between acknowledging the past and celebrating it. 

One of the removed plaques stated, “The last home of Traveller. Through war and peace the faithful, devoted and beloved horse of General Robert Lee. Placed by the Virginia Division, United Daughters of the Confederacy”. This gesture suggests a shift in the university’s stance on how they present and remember Confederate figures and their affiliations. 

Evan Nierman, in his work “The Cancel Culture Curse,” defines “cancellation” as an act where a morally absolute coalition aims to isolate and disproportionately punish an alleged transgressor. But is Traveller’s situation a direct reflection of cancel culture? The term is often applied to living individuals or brands that face backlash due to controversial actions or statements. In this case, Traveller, an animal long deceased, is entangled in the debate due to his association with Lee, a Confederate general with a contested legacy. 

The crux of the matter lies in understanding the distinction between preserving history and advocating ideologies. Lee’s affiliation with the Confederate cause has made him a polarizing figure, with some viewing him as a hero and others as a symbol of a divisive past1. The university’s actions reflect an ongoing internal struggle to balance historical preservation with contemporary societal values. 

In 2021, there were calls to rename the university by removing the “Lee” reference, yet the board decided to retain it1. The school, named after both George Washington and Lee, is a living testament to the nation’s multifaceted history. Both figures made significant contributions, albeit in different capacities and eras. 

In conclusion, Traveller’s situation at Washington and Lee University offers an intriguing lens through which we can examine society’s evolving relationship with its past. As institutions grapple with the challenge of presenting history without inadvertently endorsing outdated ideologies, the line between acknowledgment and celebration will continue to be a point of contention. 

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