Ian Drury - Sheil Land Associates Ltd. - 52 Doughty Street - London WC1N 2LS

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Whose History?

Well, if you want a good argument, history is the place to be.

Or do I mean 'historiography' - the writing of history?

See, history is a very political subject. I know that. But suddenly, it seems, it's got a lot more so, with our gloriously awful new coalition government in the UK. Michael Gove, a glove puppet posing as Education supremo, has approached a right-wing bigot and asked him to sort out the history part of the schools' national curriculum.

Terry Deary, the author of those Horrible History books (which, let's face it, are a fantastic introduction to history for kids), has already had a go, describing contemporary historians as 'nearly as seedy and devious as politicians.'

He branded Niall Ferguson, the apologist for the British Empire whose idea of history is so attractive to the Tories, 'a deeply offensive right-wing man who uses history to get across a political point.'

Good stuff, eh? But what's this - the rudest man in history (David Starkey) has had a little rant at female historians, saying that they write 'historical Mills and Boon.' (For those who don't know what Mills and Boon is/are, it's low-rent romantic melodrama written by the bucket-load and sold to subliterate women in hospitals.)

Now, I've got my own gripes with historians, thanks to the years I've spent working on Arthur and Shakespeare. Most of them, I've discovered, just repeat what somebody else previously said. Take the Shakespeare biography industry. Endless re-runs of the same stuff, slightly re-worded but nothing new. And what I've found is that, for those who are prepared to dig, there is a wealth of material about Will Shakespeare, mostly untapped, completely ignored by the "historians" who are so terrified of departing from the script that they'd rather publish gibberish than a book about who Shakespeare was.

Or Arthur. Historians insist - against all the evidence - of looking for Arthur in the wrong place and in the wrong century. And when they can't find him there, they throw their little arms up in the air and moan "Then he didn't exist!" When there's a bloody obvious Arthur, perfectly visible, the first on record with that name, surrounded by individuals whose names are uncannily similar to those of the Knights of the Round Table ... oh, but no, it can't have been him, say the "historians". Just sour grapes, really. They wanted to find him in England, failed, and now don't want anybody else to have him.

So it is true - historians are petty, intellectually lazy and committed to telling their version of events regardless of the evidence.

Or they're callow, conformist regurgitators of the accepted 'message' who'll go to extraordinary lengths to avoid touching on 'difficult' or 'dangerous' material.

Many of them are guilty of collaborating in a process of keeping history away from the common people or broadcasting a narrow-minded and orthodox view of what happened.

And then you get the Niall Fergusons and their right-wing followers, making up stupid lies about the BBC pursuing a left-wing agenda and trying to convince themselves and everybody else that the British Empire was the best thing ever.

We can really do without maniacs like that. History is a bitchy enough game as it is, without bringing in the madmen and the arch-propagandists to tell us all what to think.

No comments:

Post a Comment