Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Importance of British History

Having been on Any Questions last week, I now get to play the Jonathan Dimbleby role tonight when I chair a panel discussion at the Royal Society on how we view history in this country, how it is taught in schools and how to engage people with the subject. It's being put on by the History Channel and the Daily Telegraph, who are about to launch a series of programmes called '50 Things You Should Know About British History', which will be presented by TV historian Dan Snow. Each programme in the series will feature between eight and 12 events from British history - such as the construction of Stonehenge or the invention of the internet - with a total of 50 to be featured. The series starts on 7 September.

The panel tonight consists of Simon Heffer, Polly Toynbee, Dianne Abbott, Dominic Sandbrook, and Douglas Murray. If that doesn't get a bit sparky, then nothing will!

If you have strong views on the teaching of history, engaging people with the subject, the growing popularity of history programmes on TV, do leave a comment and I may well bring it into the debate tonight.

I think there are a few tickets left (it's free) so if you have a spare couple of hours and want to pop along please email


Anonymous said...

Two Pollys? Aaargh!

Anonymous said...

Strewth, two Pollly Toynbees cant think of anything worse. I shan't be seeing you there Iain

Anonymous said...

Having always been fascinated by History, I feel strongly about this. We were taught in a crashingly boring way at Grammar School back in the Dark Ages (50s/60s) - and I don't recall things improving when my children attended their Grammar Schools in the 80s.

I believe children should first be taught a simple Time Line of UK history, which can be easily hung on to 'Memorable Monarchs'.

In secondary school, when doing Languages and Geography, there should be some background of the history of the country involved.

And History can be used to teach children how to reason and think - not along the puerile lines of 'how would it have felt to be a serf' - but 'why would this eyewitness have said xxxx, was there a political or personal motive' etc.

**Encourage children to read good quality historical novels, eg Rosemary Sutcliffe (and reading The Scarlet Pimpernel books at age 12 led me to read a huge amount of non-fiction about the French Revolution).**

Oh, and finally, teach children to take every historic film/tv romance with a big pinch of salt!

Anonymous said...

Why did nulab's digitisation of the 1901 online census crash miserably and stay crashed for 9 months?

Why did those with prepaid access have to fight nulab for compensation, while minister Rosie Winterton sneered and dimissed family and local historians as a joke?

Because what nulab never have - and never will - understand is that British History and heritage is a massively popular obsession for many millions of UK and overseas family historians.

Wrong history, nulab would say, they should be studying the aetiology of socialism.

That's just one more example of their disconection with us outside the political bubble.

Family history is a huge source of overseas tourist income for UK, so why are nulab deliberately destroying so much of our irreplacable heritage?

I'm spending 2 weeks hols visiting stunning Essex churches and villages and at every church I visit the visitors book is crammed with records of overseas visitors who, like the one I saw in Rickling yesterday say:

"I'm thrilled to be here in the wonderful church and village of my ancestors, thank you so much for looking after it

Jill USA"

Unsworth said...

History is Goddam important. The problem is that our cretinous political leaders don't know any. If they did we would not be continuously repeating the errors of the past.

As but a few examples:

Afghanistan - we've been there and fought over the same territory for centuries.

Iraq - ditto

America - do we actually have all that much in common? Remember the War Loans?

France/Europe - Yes indeed, do we really trust the bastards?

Labour Governments - How good are they really?

Trades Unions - Oh Dear!

etc, etc.

Yes a little more teaching and understanding of History would go a very long way. Certainly it'd be a damn sight more valuable to the nation than Media Studies.

Anonymous said...

History can be studied for its own stake, for purely academic interest.

But understanding and knowledge of a nation's history is essential for understanding that nation today. Its history has shaped it.

In relation to the latter, there are two problems with teaching British history today.

The first is that multiculturalism has had the effect of denying a common history. If your family only came to this country in the last 60 years, you may not immediately think that Agincourt and Waterloo are part of your history. Contrast the USA where, apart from some trouble with native Americans, it is easy for newer immigrants and their families to sign up to American history, which is a history of an immigrant country.

But for us it is more difficult. Partly this is beacause of issues such as the slave trade (on the one hand Britain profited from it, on the other Britain took a leading role in abolishing it and in trying to bring slavery to an end in Africa after the trans-Altantic trade had been ended) or the Empire (which side do you identify with at Plassey or Cawnpore?).

But partly it is because of a reluctance to "force" the history of the British onto those whose culture/background/ancestors are not British.

The second problem is the trend towards empathy and away from chronology. One of the keys to understanding history is to realise that people did not know what was going to happen. You have to get the sequence of events right. Only when you have done that can you begin to understand the views of people at any particular time.

But the first problem is not new. Just think of Robert the Bruce and Bannockburn. Now high-jacked by the SNP, Robert the Bruce used to be a hero for the English too. Every school boy knew the story of Robert the Bruce and the spider. Edward II was a bad king and it was quite right that he lost.

There is no need to hide the bad bits, but there are plenty of positives to be found in British history. It could, and should, be taught so as to encourage pupils to identify with Britain.

For example, if there were slums and poverty and child labour in Victorian Britain, there were reformers who did something about them too.

Anonymous said...

Can't agree with Judith more. When I was at secondary school, (in the 1990s) history lessons revolved around specific periods (Henry VIII or WW1/2) with very little else being covered. As a result, when I finished my education, I knew little about British history, or much European history (except for 1939 to 45!).
Instead of focussing on specific topics and giving it a "modular" approach, I feel we should be teaching children at a much broader level, moving on to specific periods/categories of history at a more advanced level (i.e. A level).

Anonymous said...

The 1901 census, digitised by QuinetiQ (part of the DERA and the MOD), was designed for a maximum of 1.2 million users per day.

It crashed because
1.2 million users PER HOUR tried to access it.

Nulab once again abysmally underestimated the massive worldwide obsession with British history.

UK once again lost billions of income thanks to nulab.

Anonymous said...

I am currently studying History and Politics at Oxford, and am focussing a lot on British history.

I agree with Judith: I think that between Year 3 and Year 9 students should be taught a timeline of British history, covering everything from Roman Britain to the modern day. It would obviously be very superficial, but it would give children an idea about the whole of British history and would allow increased focus on sepcific periods and other countries at GCSE and A Level.

Also, we shouldn't gloss over the less savoury parts of our history, notably slavery. Things like our treatment of prisoners in the Boer War should also be taught.

Anonymous said...

And the biggest joke of nulab's 1901 digitisation fiasco:

When the 1901 online census was finally released again 9 months later, it was found to be so riddled with transcription errors that few could use it.

The census was then successfully transcribed and digitised by an American company, Ancestry, which now makes bilions out of it.

The source of the errors in the nulab transcription:

1. HM prisoners carried out the initial transcription, which, surprise, surprise, was found to be riddled with 80% errors.

2. The transcription was outsourced to Sri Lankan students with no experience of transcribing old British records and no knowledge of British place names, surnames, old occurpations etc.

3. They even transcribed 'ditto' as a surname and 'union's (workhouses) as the names of towns.

One more reason why nulab must not be allowed anywhere near our data!

Anonymous said...

‘British’ History is a very tricky term and can only safely be used when discussing natural history. British History in any sort of monarchical or state sense only began relively recently from 1707 or 1603. For example in Scotland the current Queen Elizabeth is QEI as the was the Queen of England etc etc

For example, some will guffaw at this, but when the USSR was up and running soviet historians clearly differentiated between soviet history and pre revolutionary. Tsarist succession was not known as ‘Soviet’ or did it become so retrospectively. Now the USSR has passed away, we refer to the Union period as ‘Soviet’. In theory the same should be applied to British history. i.e. Stonehenge is not a ‘British’ construct, Queen Elizabeth fist or Henry VIII were not ‘British’ monarchs. 1066 is not a date in importance to British history. Very few people had any concept of ‘Britain’ until the Victorian Era and didn’t really get going until the World Wars, after which arguably and ironically, Britishness has been in steep decline.

Or perhaps we are talking about ‘British’ in the geographical sense, we are either talking about the history of Great Britain or the British isles. On the former the History of Northern Ireland would be excluded, for the latter significant aspects of republican Irish history must therefore be concluded.

I prefer historians to be exact in their terminology and the adjective ‘British’, especially when used retrospectively, rarely ever actually an accurate description of an event or period of history.

Anonymous said...

@Anon 12.02PM

You must go down a riot at dinner parties...

Anonymous said...

@Anon 12.02PM

What about teaching the history of those parts of the British Isles that are part of modern Britain?

You great Labour-voting moral relativist.

Anonymous said...

As a History graduate, who was taught history very well at my (major public) school in the 1970s, I absolutely agree that it is the sense of chronology that (based on my own children's schooling) present history teaching seems to lack.

By the time I had completed my first two years as an undergraduate, I had covered all English (British after 1707!) History from 1485 onwards other than 1715-1760 (always a neglected period) with quite a lot of medieval history too. Sure much of this was mainstream political history, rather than economic or cultural for all periods, but even on completing O levels much of this had been covered the first time. We did very little 20th century history, but that was mostly general knowledge and hardly had to be taught.

Now, even GCSE is divided into little special subjects, not broad sweep. I suggest that 40% of History GCSE marks should be multiple choice on themes and approx dates/chronolocy. You don't have to know the precise dates of the break with Rome or the English Civil War but all school leavers should know them as themes and the centuries that they were in. You can get A grades in history GCSE and A level without knowing this (or equivalent themes from other centuries). What hope have you of understanding the cultural background to christianity in this country, or the modern monarchy and consitution, if you know nothing of these things (even if you might be an expert on Italian Unification 1870 on which probably it is enough just to know that it happened, but is actually a special subject that can now be studies for a whole term in the AS level year)?

Maybe you could even offer my putative GCSE multiple choice paper as a "half" GCSE a year or two earlier for those who might not want to do a full GCSE, to be taken by all before they give up the subject.

Anonymous said...

I took History to GCSE level, taking the exam seven years ago.

Things may have changed since then, but throughout my entire time studying the subject at school the names of Nelson, Wellington, Marlborough, Drake and others were never mentioned.

But we learnt bucketloads about the Schleswig-Holstein Question.

These people shaped how our nation is today, and to think that pupils are coming out of school with no idea of who they are is just tragic.

Anonymous said...

In keeping with am earlier comment, I too found English History at grammar school to be crushingly boring (Scots, Welsh & Irish - do not shoot the messenger, it was English History). But then I was introduced to Political History. Absolutely fascinating - Magna Carta, Repeal of the Corn Laws, The Boston Tea Party, The Matchstick Girls strike, The Tolpuddle martyrs, the Suffragettes, WWI, WWII .....

Which brings me to a question I would like you to ask:

How does the Government reconcile the wholesale slaughter of the freedoms that people died to obtain with it's headlong rush into a modern day British society that makes the Stasi look like amateurs?

Would the panel agree that, by promoting history in education, the government shoots itself in the foot by exposing its policies as a betrayal of centuries of the British way of life, including the scrapping of Habeus Corpus with the 42 day rule - a measure even the paranoid Dubbya has not proposed (except in Guantanamo)?

PS Can you change the Capcha library / database? The current version is a nightmare for people like me with less than perfect eyesight.

T England. Raised from the dead. said...

I think things like, how Britain set up trading posts around the world & UM! Made friends with the locals! & how we influenced their society & way of life are interesting to know & how this has helped Britain become who we are.

Setting up those trading posts must have done more to influence how the world evolved in business than the dutch messing up selling flowers & starting the stock exchange!

T England. Raised from the dead. said...

There would be no way I could go to a show to see that Polly woman!
I shout at the TV when she comes on, not sure I could stop myself if I saw her in the flesh! ERR! What a thought :-(

Anonymous said...

The emergence of Dan Snow as a TV historian shows how nepotism rules in UK education and media. Check out the Torygraph article (4 Aug) plugging his R4 series 'At War with Wellington' for the number of crass errors in the direct quotes from someone who managed to wangle a place at Oxford and an entree into the BBC's commissioning list. Would he have achieved either if his dad had been a nobody?

Re Judith's comment (11.31 am) about history being used to teach children to reason and think, aren't these the last things the Establishment want them to learn?

Anonymous said...

My question is: Have you considered how historian's own bias can taint basic facts?

George IV had several mistresses live with him and then tried to divorce his wife on the grounds of her supposed adultery (never proven). This was disallowed by the Commons (which all divorces had to pass through) due to G IV's wide ranging and public infidelities and yet the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, which should be more factual, refers to Q. Caroline as an adulteress as a statement of fact, despite Hansard saying otherwise.

Another example is that David Lloyd George didn't accept an Earldom because of pressure from his wife but because he was scared about losing power and his seat in the next election (Guardian, yesterday.) But biographies blame his sudden change of principles on Frances Stevenson instead of recognising his desperate need to cling onto power.

I want to know just how far you think an historian should be allowed to bend facts. Where do you draw the line?

Anonymous said...

"growing popularity of history programmes on TV"

I must have missed that.

Didn't that Simon Schama bloke lead a delegation of historians to see Blair a few years ago? The message was 'the teaching of history in schools is appalling. It would be better to stop it entirely then to allow this to continue.'

Hint: it carried on, just the same or worse.

Anonymous said...

Don't make the Dimblebore mistake of thinking yourself a member of the panel and interjecting with your own opinions.

Anonymous said...

Julia is so right about the boring presentation of history at school.

If I taught history in school I'd help my class to research their own family history, beginning with the (US transcribed) online censuses and whatever other data their family have.

Once they've found murderers, vicars, prostitutes, poverty stricken farm workers, match girls and scandals among their ancestors, they'll be hooked on history for ever.

Tapestry said...

King Charles The First walked and talked half an hour after his head was cut off.

History needs punctuation, unlike media studies.

Anonymous said...

I think that one of the basic flaws in the teaching of history during my time at school was the plan of it all. Start from the beginning and make your way to the end. Seems logical but very boring for a young kid.

A massive success today is GCSE history which appears to focus heavily on WW2 but critics call this simplistic and too narrow but seems to attract many as a choice subject.

There are a number of key events as I see. King Harold and the Norman conquest (a real hero)and the whole situation surrounding his fall.

Henry VII and how he stengthened the position of King.

Henry VIII and the breakaway from Rome (why?)

Elizabeth I and why she was different from her sister.

Marlborough Vs The sun King and why this battle determined who had the empire.

Waterloo. Was this French defeat responsible for WW1 and WW2?

WW1 and Versaille (Duh!).

and not forgetting Stoke City beating Aston Villa and West Ham 9-0 each soon!

History is a giant jigsaw and another piece is always sought to fill in the gaps. History must be made interesting at the very beginning of early education and I believe that hero worshipping Great British Heroes is a spectacular start.

Having said that, I have yet to find any historical charachter anywhere that lives up to Napoleon.

Now there is someone to talk about.

That guy alone made heroes out of half a dozen staues in and around London!(and still, Pygmies talk him down).

Old BE said...

Why are these panels always made up of the same small selection of people? Why does anyone care what Polly Toynbee or Diane Abbott have to say about history teaching?

Anonymous said...

Re Blue Eyes at 1.52pm: whilst you and I would obviously make fine panellists on this, Diane Abbot read History at Cambridge and is also of immigrant stock so can provide a perspective of what "British History" means to her. She also values good education as shown by sending her son to an independent school, and is an entertaining speaker. Polly Toynbee I agree is more questionable, but presumably she's there to keep the traditionists' blood circulating.

Gary @ 1.31. I am in favour of teaching chronology and themes over centuries, but that certainly doesn't have to be taught from 0 to 2008 in sequence. It's a patchwork that can emerge over time without doing it in order. A large timeline wallchart with the bits shaded in that have been "done" would be a good way of keeping track.

Anonymous said...

Dan Snow.
Yes please.

Anonymous said...

POLLY TOYNBEE?? Have you had you jabs Iain? The FO advises against going there

Bill Quango MP said...

GCSE teach the easy and interesting bits.

Gary's list is a pretty good start.
Just add the Romans at the startand probably work in a leson on the Magna Carta.
He lists the dramatic events that significantly altered the country.

Learning all the monarchs in a "Sceptered Isle" style is really quite tedious.

GCSE and A levels are just tasters after all. Those that want to know more will take the advanced courses.

Anonymous said...

I sometimes get the impression that our multi-cultural schools teach British children they should be ashamed of British history.

Whatever period they cover, I feel British history should be presented to British children as something they should be proud of.

The Remittance Man said...

I'll agree that in the past the teaching of history was stultifyingly boring, but the modern approach, a grab bag of disconnected periods (Tudors and Stuarts followed by WWII) further ruined by touchy feely pc concepts ("write an essay on how it would feel to be a Jew in 1939 Warsaw") does nobody any favours.

At least under the old system most pupils learned about the key events in British history (Magna Carta, Peasants Revolt, Reformation, Glorious Revolution etc) which both explained why modern Britain is the way it is and underlined the freedoms for which people had fought.

Sadly I can't see any government undoing the damage. It's much better from their point of view to have a population who don't know that things like Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights exist. It makes trampling their rights so much easier.

Anonymous said...

As many commentators here have shown, the way to teach history or pretty much any subject, it to pose questions which some of your listeners might find interesting enough to try to answer.

I'm not sure that our disgusting leaders are ignorant of history. History has taught them that too many of us are and so they think they can get away with it. We came at them in the same old way, and they stopped us in the same old way.

Anonymous said...

1. To the definition of British for Mr 12.02pm, how about the teaching of the history of the people known as British today? Then we can include French, Dutch, Indian and all sorts of other relevant areas.

2. To the people who think immigrants will have a problem with British history, I would say that they came here to live and take part in our society - or should have done if they are given citizenship. Therefore they need to know British history. If I went to live in Slovenia, I would expect me children to be taught the history of the Slavs, because I would expect them to grow up as part of that society.

3. Political time-line history can be so tedious, better to teach in time line themes - as others have indicated. But why start at Romans, there is some great history now on the origins of the British going back to post Ice Age. On DNA evidence most of us are linked to Basque 'Celts', and the Vikings, Saxons gave us little by way of new DNA. Partly because they too were drawn from similar stock.

4. Can we stop all this 'pretend' your a Spanish sailor at the Armada nonsense. It encourages people to look down on their ancestors if not to be ashamed. Which may be why its done. I've no idea what it was like to be my 16th century gx grandmother because I live in a world of contraception, emancipation, welfare state, My values are different, so I may think she was hard done too. She may have been very, happy and achieved a lot in her world of hand fasted relationships, close knit village, and manor courts where villages policed themselves and made their own infrastructure.

5. On the lines of truth, I think on the evidence that Queen Caroline probably did commit adultery - but the history is that she was accused of it. But if we are going to bring in slavery could we please bring it into context and not as a form of self abuse. Slavery was a way of life in Africa for many centuries, in some countries 50% of the population were slaves - Muslim and much later European traders, took advantage of this. Africans earnt a great deal of money from the trade - question why didn't they make better use of it? Can we also teach it as part of triangular trade. Finally, many people sold as slaves would otherwise have been killed anyway as they were prisoners of war, people who fell out with leaders, criminals etc. There are people around now who think the British invented slavery - how truthful is that???

6. I would encourage the study of local and family history to put the history of ordinary people into context of the big events. It would also bring social and economic history into play a little more - and be useful for community building.

Polly Toynbee - I'd need to be paid to go and see THAT WOMAN!!

Anonymous said...

Diane Abbott? Really? I love her on This Week, and she's a good parliamentarian, but the only comment I remember her making about history was saying Mao had been, on balance, good for China.

By the way, been watching Starkey's excellent Monarchy series on 4od. An excellent example of how you should teach history.

Anonymous said...

ps. for all of you who are avidly interested in History AND Politics, may I strongly recommend Hilary Mantel's novel about the genesis of the French Revolution "A Place of Greater Safety".

Stunningly well researched and brilliantly written, it demonstrates the eternal problem of idealism turned into sour and vicious (and ultimately fatal) infighting.

Probably the best serious historical novel I have ever read.

Anonymous said...

That's it! Practical work - that's what we want - practical work! Not all this messy stuff like po'try and making maps and sticking scraps of paper and such like. Give 'em a good bit of figuring and handwriting and bother the rest. Practical work! You've said it!

Yak40 said...

Just refer arguments to 1066 and All That, it'll tell you quickly what was a good thing.

Anonymous said...

I've already contributed anonymously at 11.39.
In terms of "British History" one fairly academic book I started reading a couple of years ago on the Reformation by Diamaid MacCulloch called the British Isles "the Atlantic Isles" (or something equally daft) and, of course, used "Common Era" for "AD" even though the book was about Christianity.

Anonymous said...

Agincourt is far less important in British History than Bismarck's nation-building wars. I fear that any attempt to have Englishmen define British History is doomed to parochialism - this is one thing you really ought to leave to the Scots. (Though not, of course, to any Scot dim-witted enough to suppose that 1066 is not part of British History.)

Anonymous said...

I suppose learning of the Royal timeline can be boring for some, but for most of the last thousand years, these people ran events in this Country and forced a shape to England and Great Britain.

One of my heroes was and still is, Captain Cooke.

He sailed into the unknown and planted the flag on any beach he found, bringing those Countries into the 'British Protectorate'

Love the bit when Aboriginies shrugged their shoulders. looked around and said: 'Protect us from whom'?
'There's no one around here, only us'?
'We don't need King George or his heirs'!
'We have a chief who looks after us and let's us get on with it and with equal rights'!
'Is there any chance you can **** off back to England and take your flag with you'?


Anonymous said...

I gave up on 'O' level history in the 60s.

Subsequently whilst a research student I found that Mediaeval history was interesting, along with other historical questions such as who determined what went into the New Testament.

History can be interesting, but there is so much of it, it can be difficult to find those parts which excite.

Industrial Revolution history is another intruiging topic. It puts the idea of out-sourcing into context when you read how the early Railways initially did this, but later decided that doing everything in-house was the only way to go.

For those who want to understand the love-hate relationship that is the Franco-German axis in the EU then the history of the 19th as well as the 20th century is required reading.

However, PC is the great stultifier in history teaching as in other things, so no agreement with the Pollys of this world.

Anonymous said...

Fcuk me! No Yasmin Alibhai-Brown! There's a blessing. Make the most of it. Rejoice!!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I am a freak but I loved history at school (grammar and direct grant in the 60s) and not one person in the class found it boring.

We followed a time line of British and European history arriving at the 20th century in time to study it for O-level. For A-level I studied the Renaissance and Reformation in European history and the Tudors and Stuarts in British history.

I agree that the module approach of current history teaching leaves gaps in the time line. I can see the argument put forward by some that history teaching is too Eurocentric but if we develop a too broad an approach then there is a danger of history teaching being even more piecemeal. (E.g. pupils study the Ming dynasty, the American civil war, the Indian mutiny, etc. but don't have a clue about how these events fit into the history of the respective countries).

One aspect of the module approach to history teaching that really annoys me is that teaching history in a chronological way teaches a moral lesson - from actions spring consequences. This point is lost if modules are studied out of context.

However, I feel that the main accomplishment of a great history teacher should be to fill pupils with enthusiasm so that the gaps in their historical knowledge they can fill in themselves through reading books in their spare time. I've just read John Julius Norwich's trilogy on the Byzantine Empire and it was a thrill for me to discover so much about a period I knew so little about. But then I love history - perhaps I'm just weird.

Anonymous said...

In primary school , in Scotland 60/70s, I got a basic time line histoty of Britain.

I am happy to call it a history of Britain because it was used to explain how we got where we are now.

Then in secondary school I got
corn laws
and a lot of stuff about how working hours were gradually regulated in mines and factories.

All deadly dull I stoped doing history as soon as I could.

Then when I was older I started filling in the time line stuff by reading from Herodotus to Churchill.

Anonymous said...

given that so much of Britains contribution to world history revolves around scientific and technological discoveries I hope that not all the panels are just politico talking heads who know sod all about science. someone like Martin Rees would be great.

Anonymous said...

Well I think we can safely bet on Polly insisting that Tony Blair was responsible for the building of Stonehenge, a Neolitic Olympic Stadium, Tony Blait invented The Internet, the first person to circumnavigate the globe was Tony Blair, electricity was harnessed for practical purposes by Tony Blair. Also the theory of evolution was first postulated by Tony Blair, London's sewer system was contructed under the supervision of Tony Blair, Tony Blair wrote hamlet, Macbeth etc. The Battle of Waterloo was won by the Duke of Wellington of course, Tony Blair wa far too important to the nation to risk being hit by a stray musket ball.
Things could easily get a bit sparky if anyone dares to disagree with Polly's somewhat myopic view of British history.

Anonymous said...

" ... events from British history - such as ... the invention of the internet ..."

The internet isn't a British invention. Don't you mean the Worldwide web?

Anonymous said...

anon @ 6:27

Sorry to disappoint you but they seem to be the usual bunch of 'rent a quote' types.

They are a species related to the
"greater-barrelled, lesser-spotted pundit birds" who can be regularly heard squawking on BBC TV news programmes.

The only problem with Rees is that he has not read his history when it comes to Global Warming. If he did he would find that it has been just as hot in past historical times.

Anonymous said...

"The importance of salvaging British History from nu-Labour" would be a better title.

Anonymous said...

One of the things I love about Winston Churchill was after winning the second world war (and getting kicked out office) he immediately set about writing a 6 volume history of the war - one of the longest histories ever penned.

Now there's a man who really understood history.

Looking forward to your Alex Salmond interview tomorrow, Iain.

Wyrdtimes said...

British history only gets taught in English schools. Strange that.

Anonymous said...

"At least under the old system most pupils learned about the key events in British history (Magna Carta, Peasants Revolt, Reformation, Glorious Revolution etc) which both explained why modern Britain is the way it is and underlined the freedoms for which people had fought."

None of the above events are 'British' they are English, such is the anglo-centric nature of this state.

Roger Thornhill said...

I am too late. You really need to show how the people have constantly had to fight the state to regain their natural freedoms. Socialism is just Nationalised Feudalism or some form of National Mill Owner. It is not anti-elitist, just that Socialists think they should be the elite.

The Remittance Man said...


2 out of three maybe, but the Glorious Revolution marked the beginning of the end of a Scottish dynasty (the Stuarts), and brought about both the English Bill of Rights and the Scottish Claim of Right.

It could also be said to be the precursor of the Act of Union which united England and Scotland under one parliament.

I'd say it was as much a Scottish event as an English one. It certainly played a mjor role in shaping the histories of both countries over the next century.

Anonymous said...

This is the best case for TV. I've learnt a hell of a lot from it. The Great War, The World at War, Simon Scharmer etc etc. Teachers cannot hope to compete. Let the abuse begin.
Freedom to Prosper

Anonymous said...

It is, of course, a serious problem., but not a new one. How do we motivate people to learn. whatever their age? How do we encourage them to challenge the 'conventional wisdom' (The late J.K Galbraith was good for one thing at least), Well, I have a sugggestion. Rather than just wailing about 'What is to be done'? We get someome in charge who inspires us. It would be a start. Maybe a small start. But we need someone who doesn't lie any more than she or he really must do for reasons of national security, someone who can connect with peorple, intellectually and emotionally. Those of us who might be feeling a bit down or a bit threatened at the moment, if we have any sense, will not be looking to politicians to lift our mood. We should be a little more self-reliant than that. That said, we don't want some bloated spider in Downing St. to depress us even futher. That's what we have at the moment, I'm sorry to say.

The Military Wing Of The BBC said...

This is why no one is interested in mainstream politics anymore.

Statistics showing record immigration into the UK were released today:
no coverage from the BBC
no coverage on right-of-centre blogs.
More people arrived in the UK last year than Hitler planned to use in opperation Sealion.
All the coverage is on Gary Glitter.
We're all stuffed.

Anonymous said...

It was a good event - well done Iain. But the attacks by the whole panel on History teaching in schools were unfair - and ill-informed. Teachers focus on Nazis because History is not compulsory after age 14 and so they have to offer subjects that can compete for students. Moreover, modern subjects like the Nazis are easy to make interesting because of the range of sources available - this goes for the Cold War too which, despite what the panel claimed, is very regularly taught in UK schools. Up to the age of 14 school pupils are given a broad sweep of History but it is not all that successful because you cannot possibly cover everything in less than an hour a week. Even as an undergraduate - my degree sought to cover 800BC to the C20th in the first two years - I saw that the broad sweep approach does not always work. I ended up knowing nothing about any period until I had to learn real History first as a secondary school teacher and then as a postgraduate student. Finally, two other reasons why teaching the full chronology of British history is not necessary: i) that way, you will never entice people with a specialism in a specific period into teaching; and ii) people do not need to know all the history that exists before they leave school - school is about encouraging an initial interest and then, when people are older, they can return to the subject and extend their historical knowledge through TV, books, museums, trips abroad and other means.

Anonymous said...

I have really enjoyed reading all these comments. It is so good to see what is essentialy the "base code" of our politics discussed.

What I find incredibly interesting is that there are hugely divergent differences in the basic understanding- even the words- used about the history of these islands.

So many people start from assumed truths based on what they themselves were taught. I include myself in that.

I am in my fifties and was educated at a "bog-standard comprhensive" in Wales. As far as our education was concerned the very word "British" only really applied to us, the Welsh. While our English peers studied the "dark ages" we were taught about the "golden age" where we (the British) preserved Christianity eventually converting the Irish via the missionary Patrick and through them the Scots and eventually the dreaded English Northumbrians.

The key events (we were taught) in the history of these islands were the Battle of Catraeth (Catterick), the fall of Rheged (Cumbria), Manaw Gododdin (Edinburgh) and Ystrad Clud (Strathclyde) where the "British" were defeated by the "English" and the "Scots" respectively.

It's incredible really. We're fifteen hundred years on and the two different verions of history by the two rival propagandists are still being taught. The English are swallowing the bile of Bede and pretending he's "venerable" while the "British" cling to the Gildas version of what happened

I make no great claims for the truth of the history I got in school- but that was what we were taught. It is probably about as accurate as the English foundation myths of Hengest, Horsa, Canute et al.

The problem is this unless you have a single "foundation myth", which most nation's have, you aren't really a nation.

These islands, Ukania, the European Isles or whatever you call them (and you can't call them Britain because that means different things to different people) have no single foundation myth. Unless and until someone can create one the UK will never be a nation.

Lest anyone thing this a rabid nationalist viewpoint let me say I think there was, briefly, a "British nation"- and what a nation is was! It was the nation that stood together aginst barbarity and facism in the mid twentieth century and went on to create the welfare state. It was an incredible achievement of which all in these islands could and should be proud.

The difficulty was, very possibly, the essence of Englishness. The English can be arrogant, snobbish and covinced of their own supremacy. But they are also, ultimately, sentimental and kind. They could have just assimilated the conquered countries and cultures on these islands but they decided not to bother.

In the same way, unlike the record of other European empires, the history of the "British" Empire is something of a grey area in terms of causing harm and good.

All of which is facisnating. And that why its so sad that the History Channel's choice of important events ignore all this. Instead it does the 50 biggest hits of English history ignoring the fascinating complex multi-national history of our islands.

Anonymous said...

Finally, someone on this site that I can disagree with. I don't think we are stuffed. I think we retain huge potential and that we can conintue, with some setbacks from time to time, and I don't say that at all lightly because many people pay for these setbacks with their lives, to be a major force for good in this world.

But we must have a leader who inspires, who cheers, who looks as though he or she has lived a little, been through some rough times and made it, understands that we have too, and that really it's not such a bad thing. I am not a socialist, not a leftist, and I would only vote Labour if I really respected the Labour candidate. As it happens, where I live, I do - if they get rid of Brown and the change is not change for the worse. Hi Harriet. But Alan Johnson is the only person to fit that description who has a chance at the moment that I can think of. No doubt my imagination is much at fault.

Anonymous said...

Although, on the other side David Davis (soory if I've mispelled his name - it's late, and I'm almost as tired as you must be) comes close. He's not quite right-wing enough for my taste, and is a little prone to get dragged back into his past when he should be watching his future, but I do like him...

Cameron is good. But he is no Jack Kennedy. But neither was Jack Kennedy.

haddock said...

"crushingly boring" has been mentioned, Dan Snow has been mentioned.... the two together must be mind numbing; I can only assume that being crushingly boring is hereditary, like a well paid job on the BBC.

Anonymous said...

On the topic of British history: I didn't believe it at first when I read it in the comments on Guido's site but I've seen the clip on Sky News and it's true - the PM actually addressed British troops in Afghanistan, saying: "Some of you MAY have heard of Field Marshall Montgomery....." May have heard of Monty? What a patronising That Word Which Iain Doesn't Allow Us To Use!

Anonymous said...

Dear Iain,
Although I am sure this is like teaching my grandmother to suck eggs, please do not let any of your panellists get away with calling English history before 1603/1707 British. Both as CEP press releases and formal letters to the BBC and others we have complained that their presenters routinely call such composers as Thomas Tallis British, English monarchs before 1603 as British famous English men and women who were English-British and so on ad nauseam. Whoever heard Macbeth, Robert the Bruce or Robbie Burns being called British?
Kind Regards,
Scilla Cullen
Chairman of the Campaign for an English Parliament

Jeremy Jacobs said...

History is so important. It's the basis of everything. Should be mandatory from the age of 7 in all schools.

Anonymous said...

Charlotte Corday said... - "Some of you MAY have heard of Field Marshall Montgomery....." May have heard of Monty? What a patronising That Word Which Iain Doesn't Allow Us To Use!

Unfortunately, he was probably right. Surveys show that very few school leavers of heard of such major figures in our recent history.