History? There’s a lot of it about...

editorial image
0
Have your say

FOR 16 years, man and boy, I studied history; reading, learning, grasping at understanding.

I got myself a GCSE, an A-Level, and a degree. Hell, I even got myself a weekly Retro page in this here newspaper.

Then some clown – or a Cambridge don, if you prefer – comes along and tells me I know nothing.

And it turns out he’s right.

See this? Professor David Abulafia has selected 31 historical dates every British child should be taught, and I – like most of my generation force-fed on 20th century dictators – would be as shafted as Napoleon at Waterloo if I was asked about even half of them.

I mean, just what the Hell was the 1763 Treaty of Paris anyway?

Stay tuned. We’ll find out...

For now, it’s fair to say I enjoy my history, and I’m not just saying that because studying it at university meant I only had four hours class time a week (none of which clashed with Countdown).

I’m saying it because it’s pretty much the most interesting thing imaginable; because everything that’s ever happened, happened there.

Even if you chop out the dull bits –- the industrial revolution, the Crimean War, the feminist movement – there’s still an awful lot to go at.

And if you go at it right – battles and revolts, inventions and sacrifices – there shouldn’t be a kid in the country who doesn’t fall in love with the past.

It’s better than English Literature because these stories aren’t made up by some Victorian bloke smashed off his chops on opium.

It’s better than science because it doesn’t involve handling dead plants.

And it’s better than maths because, let’s be honest, no-one ever impressed a hot girl by knowing the square root of pi.

In short, history is not just important for giving society a sense of identity; it is also intrinsically appealing. In even shorter, history rocks.

Which is why it’s annoying to realise my formal education is riddled with holes.

Because, when it comes to Professor Abulafia’s dates, for sure I know about the Battle of Bannockburn, the execution of Thomas More, and the loss of the American Colonies.

But that’s only because, firstly, I’ve seen Braveheart; secondly, I’ve watched The Tudors; and, thirdly, I did my own research after hearing about an awesome-sounding event called the Boston Tea Party and suggesting to a friend we get tickets for the next one.

Which, really, means much of my historical education has come through, films or – at a stretch – my own learning.

Which leaves one question: Why was I never taught this stuff at school?

Why did I spend so much time learning about Hitler and Stalin – characters, undeniably – when all this was left over? Why was I never given a broader context? Why was I allowed to believe Henry VIII spoke with an Irish accent and looked like the bloke from Match Point?

Surely some time could have been found in a decade and half of schooling for these things. Surely someone out there should have seen it was as important as spending months on end analysing sources from Fascist Italy.

That 1763 Treaty, by the way? It was all about Britain giving the French a good hiding (nice to hear) and claiming Canada for the Empire.

I should have known that already. For we should be showing our young the extraordinary of the old.