In The Mail there was an article about what might be taught in History and in particular those might be held up to the young as Great People and perhaps examples to us all. The piece contrasted a politically correct selection with one that listed The Usual Suspects.
One problem is what people were “Great” for. The Duke of Wellington, for example, for his victories against Napoleon. What is left out of his career often is his learning curve in
his spell as an unlucky Prime Minister and that his military successes were
based on a mastery of logistics that few could emulate. India
The trouble is that given the time available and the huge amount to choose from any history taught is going to be highly selective and its emphasis dependent on who drafts the curriculum to be taught and in the classroom how a teacher might interpret that.
On the channel PBS from the
there has been a four part documentary on Queen Victoria
and the British Empire. All in all it took around four hours of
screen time. It did try to explain the
era, maintain something of a balance and suggest that it was a good deal more
complicated than many assume.
Also, it was free of the usual bossy presenters we see so much of and the tiresome bang crash wallop computer game imagery whenever violence or war happens. It did make clear that there were nasty and distressing events but spared us the gore in favour of the narrative.
Even so, despite the attempt to “cover the bases” there was a great deal left out and some simplification. In a way it asked the intelligent viewer to fill in the gaps but it would take a lot of previous knowledge to know what was involved and understand.
One interesting feature, for example, was how Prince Albert, her Consort who became guide and principal adviser steered her from one view of Empire , that of power and glory, to another based on trade and moral imperatives exported to the world. After his death under Disraeli’s influence she reverted to the former.
So who was advising and supporting
and who were they connected to? This is
something I have come across recently and it had some surprises. One is Colonel, later General, Charles Grey,
his Private Secretary from 1846 to 1861, Albert’s death, who then became Prince Albert ’s until his
death in 1870. Victoria
Former the Colonel of the 71st Highlanders, mark that, he was a younger son of Charles, 2nd Earl Grey, the reforming Prime Minister from 1830 to 1836. Henry, 3rd Earl Grey, his elder brother, had been Secretary of State for the Colonies and another brother Frederick Grey rose to be head of the navy. Look around their political circle and you can see where
from. Prince Albert
But you will not find any of this in any school or even university text. They deal with other ideas and opinions and the complex realities of this period are lost to them and their students. So what of history today? Do we tell the same old tales of one kind or another, or do we look at our world now and deal with the relevant history?
lives seemed to be governed by sport, the media and our economy by the
predominance of financial services. Yet
there is little or no suggestion of putting them into school history. Also, what about the history of energy supply
instead of just talking about the old coal mining industry? Probably, there is hardly anyone around
capable of teaching these. UK
What, for example, if Women’s History was more entertainment based rather than the usual collection of worthies? Centred perhaps on Gracie Fields, Marie Lloyd, Lily Langtry, Maria Malibran, Sarah Siddons and Nell Gwyn it would be a lot more interesting in many ways.
The history of sport itself would overlap with politics. Why shouldn’t John Gully be numbered amongst the Great, along with W.C. Grace, Fatty Foulkes, Prince Oblensky and Dixie Dean? For many of our leaders politics was just another form of sport only less enjoyable.
As for finance, Oscar Wilde’s dismissal of The Fall of the Rupee may have seemed to be witty, but it had crucial implications for the whole future of British India and for some us it began the political process leading to
Who can deny the impact of some of the Great Crashes of history? Independence
The debate has only just begun and it will never finish.