TV programmes on archeaology and ancient history are extremely popular. The history that engages most of us is usually in the distant past. It expands our understanding of what it is to be human. However, Ancient History is about to disappear as an A level subject, according to an article by Tom Holland in Saturday’s Guardian.
Tom Holland says “In modern schools, of course, history tends to mean Hitler”. There is mountains of material on 20th century history, not just original papers but film, sound recordings and interviews with living people. This reminds me of a Guardian TV critic’s comment I read a few years ago to the effect that, having a cable TV connection, the critic could now pick out individual faces at the Nuremberg rallies.
However, having mountains of material available shouldn’t be enough for a few decades of relatively recent events to dominate our understanding of history.
Most people’s interest in history is formed in primary school, when you do actually learn a bit about neolithic, classical and medieval history. Just when you think history is going to be interesting, you go to the senior school and find out it is actually boring. And that you storm through any residual interesting bits – the renaissance; the plagues; the Reformation; the Elizabethans; the enclosures; the British and French revolutions; the slave trade; the industrial revolution – before you get old enough to study the “real” stuff. i.e. the Second World War.
Now, even those people who manage to retain an interest in ancient history through all this can’t even study it at school when they are older.
Tom Holland makes some really great points about why studying ancient history remains important. For on ething, there are no easy answers. For instance, you have to come think about the ambivalence of values of citizenship and democracy made possible by colonial expansion and a huge slave class.
Barely more than a hundred years ago, the average working class person left school at 12, but could quote pages of difficult English poetry and do complicated mental arithmetic. By the 1940s, many of the working class people who actually fought against Hitler had had an education that included Latin, history, literature and sciences.
(Blimey, that’s history. It may even be “History.”)
Are we now so much stupider than people in the past that we can’t study anything except “leisure and tourism” or “sports science”?