Wednesday, 26 September 2007

1984 (2): Rewriting history

"He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future", summarised Winston Smith in the book '1984'.

Trevor 'Coconut'* Phillips seems to have taken this to heart and now wants British history to be rewritten to make it more 'inclusive'.**

* This is not a term of racial abuse. It means an outwardly black person who has totally sold out.

** See also James Delingpole on the subject of Mary Seacole in 'How to be right', a book I am not ashamed to recommend.


Anonymous said...

Phillips is behind the times when it comes to history. Schools largely abandoned attempts to teach it in too rigorous a form as that only caused arguments and, anyway, academic teaching went through a dreadful patch in the 1960s and 70s when the teaching was genuinely dire.

Alan Bennett's 'The History Boys' is too kind to most of the teaching of that period. He gives three examples of teachers who are at odds but are competent and stimulating, where as in reality that only occurred in the better grammar schools and public schools. History teaching also suffered from being the unofficial repository of some very peculiar people who were just stacking up the time to retirement.

Not being wanted in the state sector, the history game went to the private sector in the 1980s where it became a vigorous industry making historians some of the richest and most entertaining of all academics. A walk around any decent newsagent or average bookshop and you will have a huge range of titles to choose from, all arguing cases furiously.

This level of interest provided a blood-transfusion for state-sector museums, some of which had become dusty and moribund. A competent museum will often have a band of voluntary friends doing guiding, carrying out research history by doing physical experiments, recovering objects, helping with cataloguing, and especially having great fun with dressing up and giving information.

In the private sector there are fantastic places such as Kentwell Hall, which has dozens of events including their famous 'time tunnel' where they revert the whole estate to the late Tudor period with the help of hundreds of volunteers. There are societies for boats, railways, buildings, galleries and libraries, entire industries, and dozens of military recreationist groups all doing history. Recreating it, researching it, arguing about it.

Philip's antiquated view of history as one authorized lump shows only that he has not done any research before giving his speech.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Those are very good points. In other words, TP should feel free to write his own version of history, but really it all goes back to teaching history in schools, which has, by all accounts, been totally Mary-Seacol-ised anyway. *sigh*

Anonymous said...

Cheer up, the film 'Elizabeth - the Golden Age' covers exactly this period and it looks like Cate Blanchette is going to give a humdinger of a Tilbury speech (opens October 12)

"I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a King, and of a King of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma of Spain, or any Prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my realm. I myself will be your general, judge and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field."

Then she had the good sense to clear off and leave it to the professionals, whilst getting her note-taker Dr Lionel Sharp to read the speech out the next day to anybody who had missed it.

Next Phillips will be saying the Australians saved us by sending their actresses over in 1588.

Warning! Contains spoilers
(and a disagreement about the release date).

Mark Wadsworth said...

When I was in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, I was surprised to learn that William of Orange courageously came over to England with his noble army to free his poor oppressed Protestant brethern from a cruel Catholic King.

I always thought that we got rid of the king first and then invited King Billy over as a figurehead ...

The Remittance Man said...

And if you go to Spain, Drake is remembered as a pirate and a villain something on a par with Jack the Ripper.

I guess every country has its own perception of history. And on the whole there ain't no problem with that. The problem comes when people start to gyppo the facts, especially if it's to suit some political agenda.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Drake was a pirate. But he was our pirate, and that's what matters!

Anonymous said...

Drake wasn't a pirate, he held letters of marque which made him a semi-detached arm of the State. Real pirates worked only for themselves. You might remember Drake fighting for the Crown against the Spanish Armada.