[Marxism] Niall Ferguson and the Tories' war on history

Sebastian Clare sebthegooner at gmail.com
Wed Jul 7 04:54:53 MDT 2010

Rule #1: YOU MUST clip all extraneous text when replying to a message.

> http://readingthemaps.blogspot.com/2010/07/britains-history-war.html

Brilliant blogpost, that. It is strange, given the subject's importance in
introducing children to the background of the world around them, that the
methods of teaching History are rarely debated in such a way - or at least
from my perspective seem to be rarely debated.

The person who commented that it was all about 'critical engagement', rather
than the endless memorising of dates and facts, hit the nail on the head.
This obsession with a general over-arching narrative, aside from its obvious
problems in ignoring the possibility of different perspectives and divergent
accounts of history, is also unspeakably dry - reducing the fascinating,
colourful and debatable accounts of history to the realm of mere trivia,
mere isolated 'facts' to be learnt by rote in order to pass some quiz. It is

Naturally, as a Marxist I'm bound to have some bias here, erring towards
Hobsbawn, Taylor, Thompson etc. However, even taking that into account, it
seems blindingly obvious to me that the best way of teaching history to
ordinary schoolkids is to emphasise the role that ORDINARY people took in
shaping the world around them. Surely this is the most interesting and
inspiring way of introducing them to the subject, before subjecting them to
grand (controversial) narratives centering around the actions of Kings,
Presidents and Generals. A favourite of mine in this regard is Mark Steel's
Vive la Revolution, published in 2004.

History should not be taught 'as is'. History is in constant flux, like
science-fiction the way it is told and presented is often more reflective of
the world that exists at the time of writing rather than the world being
written about. Bluntly, history is subjective, not objective as is currently
taught in primary and secondary school here in Ireland at least. However,
perhaps leaving critical analysis and appreciation of diverse viewpoints of
history until third level is correct, though I'm not so sure.

Apologies for this somewhat longwinded and gibberish-filled post. As a
historian I care deeply about the dismal way the subject is taught, and
particularly the myths and bullshit that seem to make up the vast majority
of what is spoonfed to our children and primary and secondary level,
the assumptions they are inevitably left with once they
graduate... Sometimes it's difficult to put into words (arguably, this is
one of those times!)

I would like to know other people's opinions on this though: Should history
be taught in the way the detestable Niall Ferguson thinks it should? Of
grand narratives, of Kings and Generals, of facts and dates uber alles?
Should it include Historiographical elements - should no presentation of
history be complete without knowing the biases and backround of the
historian presenting it? Should the history of the world be the history of
the people, therefore having to represent the actions of the most seemingly
insignificant players throughout history?


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