Historians on England's Revived Historical Interest





From the Sunday Telegraph-London (June 20 2004):

THE NEW History Phenomenon - the flourishing of history in the media since the late Nineties - now has its own history. Professor David Cannadine of the Institute of Historical Research has collected a group of 11 historians and media folk who - with one signal exception - have written interesting and illuminating essays on diverse aspects of this recent cultural and intellectual revolution.

In a thoughtful introduction, Cannadine advances a number of explanations himself, including the advent of the anti-historical New Labour government, the Millennium, the end of the British Empire when Hong Kong's lease expired, the demographic explosion of history graduates, the IT revolution and even the Golden Jubilee and the death of the Queen Mother.

My own theory, that history is being taught too cursorily in schools, leaving people with an unslaked thirst for it in later life, also gets an airing. We're the only country in Europe to allow children to opt out of history at 14, which is a national disgrace.

Senior practitioners in the media-history industry, such as Simon Schama (who focuses on the problems with television history), Melvyn Bragg (on how he made his The Adventure of English series), David Puttnam (on how history fares in Hollywood) and Max Hastings (on academics' love-hate relationship with journalists), have written insightful, thought-provoking and occasionally amusing short pieces - the book is only 166 pages long - based on their experience in the profession.

Sir Ian Kershaw, the biographer of Hitler and the historical consultant for the Bafta-winning BBC2 series"The Nazis: A Warning from History", believes that the sheer power of the medium gives television history the force it wields today."A few seconds of TV coverage can convey a message more movingly and starkly than acres of print," he writes, and with many more historians at British universities than in the 1970s much more history finds its way on to our screens.

For John Tusa, the former managing director of the World Service, it is the political relevance of television history that keeps ever-increasing numbers of us tuned in. Yet despite"the utility of history" for modern-day politics, he pessimistically records how"All the same attitudes, the identical prejudices and, of course, the same mistakes are repeated despite the available lessons of history...."


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