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The Past Is a Different Country

19 Feb The Past Is a Different Country

Half term is always a good time to look at all the latest links to History in the news. Right at the start of the holiday the Guardian produced a lovely article entitled: 800 Years of History in 20 Easy Trips. 

Lincoln Cathedral, which still has one of the best preserved copies of Magna Carta signed in 1215, is planning a programme of events this year including, ‘a word-by-word translation of the Magna Carta into modern English, and an in-the-round cinema screen telling the long and continuing story of its life.’

Other highlights mentioned in the article include the Battle of Bosworth (1485)

This was the last major engagement of the Wars of the Roses between the houses of Lancaster and York, which had caused havoc and carnage across the country during the late 15th century. Although much glamorised in the ensuing centuries as a clash between the forces of good and evil, the victory of Henry VII’s Tudor forces over those of Richard III were a defining moment in English and Anglo-Welsh history; this was the start of the Tudor dynasty and a death blow to the Plantagenets.

In fact the Daily Telegraph has recently published an article by Dominic Selwood entitled, How Bad a Guy was Richard III?

The Slave Trade Act of 1807 is mentioned and, of course, our year 8 girls will be visiting the Museum of International Slavery later this term; our students will have the opportunity to find out more about the slave trade and, ‘the brutal practice from which personal and national fortunes were made.’ One of the letters to The Guardian published on 17th February raises the following points:

Our children should be told that the greatness of Britain came by exploitation of other people, directly as in slavery, indirectly by indentured labour and through our strong colonial presence in much of the world from Africa to Burma and beyond. The Chartist Ernest Jones said about the British empire: On its colonies the sun never sets and the blood never dries

The problem is that the British are in denial about the brutality of our past. Germany has been forced to confront its brutal past. It is now illegal to deny the Holocaust, for example. In Berlin, on the site of Gestapo headquarters, stands the Topographie des Terrors, which catalogues how the Nazis got into power. It pulls no punches and makes clear that it was the German nation, and not just Hitler, that allowed the barbarity of the Holocaust to happen. The message is that they must confront their history and never let this happen again. German children are taught about their nation’s past by, for example, visiting gas chambers.

Most in Britain see the empire as generally a force for good and are blind to the brutality that brought it into existence. Without an insight into this, how can we educate our children, both black and white, to have an understanding of how we got to where we are now?

Perhaps a visit to the Slavery Museum will help to offset the concerns raised above?

History Today, one of my favourite magazines, (all of our students have free log- ins) comments,’ Magna Carta, Waterloo, Agincourt, Gallipoli: 2015 is a year of significant anniversaries……….Anniversaries offer valuable opportunities to reassess our understanding of the past.’

And finally, there is a timely article in the aforementioned magazine about a number of simplistic and quite frankly unfair depictions of the medieval period: 1000 years can’t all have been bad can it?

Enjoy half term and if you want to have  a look at a number of interesting posts on a whole host of topics, check out my Twitter posts @kehs126 .

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