On Behalf of All 'Future Historians,’ Leave Us Out of Your Brexit RantsRoundup
tags: British history, United Kingdom, Brexit
Charlotte Lydia Riley is a historian of contemporary Britain at the University of Southampton.
Historians of the future will not judge us kindly. Historians of the future will vindicate us. (Historians of the future can feel their ears burning.) In the context of the debate around Brexit, and the past few years of turbulent political developments around the world, it feels like future historians have never been more present.
The appeal to the future historian is a common trope in times of crisis. The historian of the future is pictured as a horrified figure, peering back at the madness of contemporary life. So, people claim that the future historian will be baffled, or alarmed, or confused by what is going on right now....
This always makes me feel slightly defensive on behalf of those historians, who are assumed to be so guileless. In reality, those future historians won’t be so confused. They will probably look at economic inequality, political disenfranchisement, a volatile media with low levels of trust, decades of complicated relations between Britain and the other European nations, decolonisation, deindustrialisation, xenophobia, racism, and the legitimate concerns of middle-class, home counties homeowners, and make an argument to explain why the referendum went the way it did. Historians have distance, and documents. They might see things that we can never understand in the moment, but they won’t be any more baffled than we are now.