Thursday, October 15, 2009

Distorting the facts

People often distort historical fact to suit their beliefs. Often mixing legend into fact as well as glossing over certain unpalatable happenstances.

The political class often mix and match historical fact with modern nuances to look their best in the eyes of the public.
Leading historians said politicians, public relations companies and even the Royal Family were guilty of peddling “historical myths” to promote campaigns.
Academics from leading universities including Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester and Nottingham warned that misrepresenting the past could blur public understanding of important events.
Professor Pat Thane, from the Centre for Contemporary British History, at the University of London, also warned that “bad history can lead to bad policy analysis and bad policy”.
Writing in Times Higher Education magazine on Thursday, historians criticised a series of claims made in recent years, including those from the Prince of Wales that Henry VIII “instigated the very first piece of green legislation in this country”.
In a recent lecture, the Prince said: “What was instinctively understood by many in King Henry’s time was the importance of working with the grain of nature to maintain balance between keeping the Earth’s natural capital intact and sustaining humanity on its renewable income.”
But Dr John Langton, research fellow in geography at St John’s College, Oxford, said it was a “very partisan account”.
He acknowledged that the King created a 10,000 acre forest at Hampton Court in 1539 but insisted it was just so he could hunt deer. Regular laws were passed in medieval times to protect forests for hunting, but “none could be described as green legislation”, he said.
Historians also criticised recent pronouncements by politicians on subjects including social mobility in the 1950s and 60s, the spread of democracy in the Middle East, the importance of marriage in the 19th and early 20th centuries and the creation of a Conservative “star chamber” to vet ministerial spending.
Part of the problem is the way history is/was taught to us, there's an awful lot of it so it tends to be compacted to almost uselessness in the eyes of kids, particularly if the concentration is on the boring bits of social change.

In my days as far as I can remember it went like this.

Cavemen, mostly to do with hunting for skins and cave painting, oh and flint.
Morphing into people who built artificial islands on lakes (Don't ask)
Morphing into Roman Britain, slight mention of Boadicea and the Roman Wall, but that's about it.
Morphing into Vikings sacking Lindisfarne, but little mention of the Viking Kingdoms, nor oddly enough of Alfred the Great, or Cnut.
Morphing into 1066 when the French last mounted a successful invasion (They didn't, the Normans were a Viking Kingdom)
Massive leap forward to Tudor times (I remember echoes of the Burghers of Calais, but little else)
Dissolution of the Monasteries, followed by Elizabethan times and the Spanish Armada, Drake, Raleigh, etc.
Stuart times, bit about a war and Cromwell, young prince and an oak tree. Nothing about Ireland nor the Commonwealth, bit about Puritans going abroad.
We also learned a bit about medicine and grave robbing.
After this I got to secondary school and went into a "Social and Economic History of Britain" the infamous book that does not mention Napoleon, nor Wellington, but does mention the Corn Laws and social deprivation. Oh it did mention the Chartists and the Enclosure acts too. It did mention slavery and Wilberforce, but failed to mention that Britain outlawed it during a fight for its survival.

Thus is interest in history killed off in the UK. This is how they distort the truth, manipulate us by our past and get away with it. Yes there are some of us out there who have a passion for history, who have taken the time to escape the trap to study what really happened and discovered to our joy what a wonderful land we live in and how rich our history is.

This is what is denied to us by those who use our history to justify a certain belief, to prove how the past justifies the present, history needs to be taught in an interesting way (thank God for Horrible Histories) but it also needs to be taught in a truthful way with regard to context. Trying to put modern sensibilities over a 17th century civil war regarding religion simply does not work, nor can it be compared to the Arab Israel hostilities as one of my teachers tried to do.

The problem is that the truth may be out there, but the lies are in peoples heads, because they've been encouraged not to ask nor check for themselves.

3 annotations:

James Higham said...

Didn't Churchill say something about history smiling on him because he intended writing it?

Andy said...

I've also been reading, watching and hearing a lot over the last fifteen years or so that most of the interesting scientific discoveries, world changing events and fondly remembered pop culture of the 1980s happened in the 1970s. The BBC, MPs and the British Press Association are amongst the culprits. 80s = Bad, 70s = Good.

Junius said...

Ahh - it's the old academics revisionist pronouncements that anything that places England or the English in a positive light is inherently flawed.

When I pontificate about what is happening today at least I understand that in 50 years time my grandchildren's children will probably wonder what planet I'm from - one could wish that these idiots would also remember that.