National History & National Myths…..

History owns Many Meanings –  not all of them are true….


Mary I -"Bloody Mary" - still history's bad witch

These few pages are devoted to the study of history; to the problems of historical interpretation and to historical method and analysis.

History is usually presented to readers as fact leavened into a single valid interpretation by rigorous scientific method. Historians often acknowledge that the same evidence may lead to different conclusions but as often only when the force of another’s argument forces them to resile from the position stated in their original interpretation of events. Truisms are often dismissed with a scholarly shrug.

And clichés are as contemptible to scholars as the Anglo-Saxon conjugative imperative – my mother knew euphemistically as the ‘f”  word  – is contemptible to polite society. However, truth told, the business of history is as much the business of rhetorical debate as it it one of cold facts and disinterested analysis. Michael Gove’s glib suggestion that the history curriculum should be one focused upon British heroes and heroines provides us with a chilling reminder of our blindness to the partiality of our historical narrative. Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln might have been made deliberately to illustrate this point.

Elizabeth I - eternally the good fairy - the rainbow portrait

Thus, even at the risk of restating the blindingly obvious, it is worth remembering that History is written by the winners. It is a simple fact that shapes our understanding the past.  It was so when Homer wrote the Iliad; it was so when Virgil wrote the  Aeneid; and it was so when Burnett, Macaulay, Froude, Trevelyan, Pollard and Fisher and Elton crafted their great narrative histories. And Churchill’s popular, deterministic,  linear History of the English Speaking Peoples is over-run with hindsight’s predictive triumphalism.

The most casual review of the most watched television historical adaptions demonstrates popular history is richly veined with unproven common assumptions. Steeped in a mixture of myths and legends; dyed by their common prejudices; the common history best known to the common man is a heady brew. As digging over the bones of King Richard III reminds us, Sir Thomas More’s propagandist stabs at history perfectly demonstrate how incredible but well crafted concoctions are often more credible than a solemn rehearsal of sober facts. Indeed, it is said dull facts make a dull read.

Yet, there is little dull about the bare facts of the Tudor age….continued here….


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