Blog, Chronicles

1066 and all that….

June 19, 2013

NEXT WEEK I shall be speaking at the Chalke Valley History Festival. Normally I would roll out my history of the world in 60 minutes – starting with the Big Bang and running through 20 of the most amazing moments in world history to the present day. But not next week. The festival organiser, historian James Holland, has taken it upon himself to modify the title of my talk so it begins at 1066 – giving it a rather different trajectory……

Even though the change appeared in the programme without my knowledge, it is a happy tweak as now I have the chance to dwell on aspects of the past that usually skip me by at close to the speed of light.

Today I have spent a few minutes making up my mind about the 10 moments that seem to me to be the most significant in British history over the last 1,000 years, What’s so interesting is that I find my narrative quite unlike anything an English school child would ever learn at school. I suppose that occasionally they may bump into my moments or flirt with fragments of the story I will tell, but I bet they will never see it whole.

Why not? Because when British school children learn about their history they are almost presented with the story from the inside out. It’s about how we have changed the world. It’s about how our kings, queens, rulers, inventors, charlatans – how our indigenous inhabitants have made things the way they are.

External interferences are strongly discouraged – usually by simple omission. Indeed, the story almost always begins in 1066 – so that the ignominy of external interference can be got out of the way at the start, and, fortunately for us (unlike any other European country) never seriously has to be considered again. We have not been invaded since. We are an island nation, a scepter’d isle which built an empire on which the sun never set…..

Such a parochial, insular reading of “Our Island Story’ is as arrogant as it is absurd – yet the narrative is the one that dominates.  I am happy to report that it won’t be the diet that the youngsters and their parents / teachers will hear next Monday.

Such a parochial, insular reading of “Our Island Story’ is as arrogant as it is absurd

So – I wonder what will my chosen 10 moments be? Who will be the heroes, what were the forces, which are the inventions? My approach is as much about the forces that have shaped Britain as the way in which Britain has shaped the world.

I think I have just about decided on my list – although I shall continue to mull until the talk at Chalk next week. Perhaps in the meantime you can tell me yours? Please email / comment away – but remember no more than 10 are allowed. Next week I shall reveal my milestones – each with an accompanying prop for the coat of many pockets, of course!



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