Monday, 21 May 2018

Why Do Our Historians Hate History So Much?

Recently I had a medieval history spurt. Following a family visit to the magnificent Raglan Castle in South Wales I watched back through Marc Morris’ excellent Castle series, as well as flicking through his book. His passion, not only for the buildings of medieval Britain but also the period as a whole oozes through the pages and I genuinely get a warmth and feeling for the subject that matches my own. Following this, a couple of weeks ago I watched the three part series on iPlayer on the Hundred Years War, presented by Dr Janina Ramirez – another topic I find fascinating. Once again, the delivery was articulate and passionate and covered all the salient events, twists and turns accurately and fairly. I remarked that one could consider that we should feel somewhat blessed to have such an array of historians presenting these sorts of programs in the UK because, whilst the content is there, it is important to pass on the appetite for historical knowledge to future generations.

I therefore find it rather strange that once you take these historians away from their subject matter (the past) to view them functioning in the present, they seem far removed from the passionate people who had presented their material with such a love for the history of this island. When I returned from Raglan, I tweeted Marc Morris and asked for his views on castle restoration. Of course, there are never any guarantees that people in the public eye will respond to a tweet from a nobody such as myself, but this is a relatively minor historian, not an A list celebrity and he only has around 5k more followers than I do and therefore I was mildly surprised when he ignored me. On closer inspection trawling through his timeline, he did appear to answer quite a number of tweets, but there seemed to be a trend to this and I then realized that he was a staunch remainer and huge critic not only of the current government (fair enough) but any political party expressing a disdain for the European Union. For someone who has openly talked of his passion for the likes of Edward Longshanks and Edward III and the sterling deeds of our great leaders from the high medieval period, he seemed to hold a completely different view of what our country should be and who should represent it in the present. With a tinge of dismay and my pious-o-meter starting to detect a high level of movement, I then switched my attentions to Dr Janina Ramirez whose timeline is even more reflective of the liberal left and noticed a very similar pattern of anti-Britishness. She waxed lyrical on political tirades from the likes of Ed Miliband, leading feminists and social justice commentators on how free speech should be curtailed, whilst criticizing a plethora of aspects of the British establishment, including the monarchy, an institution that she talks passionately about during her television programs. It is almost as if the entire output of her work is a “nine to five” exercise during which a magnificently effective pretense is put on in order to fulfil ratings and tick her career box (she has a doctorate after all so I would presume she needs something to show for her investment), only to return to Britain-bashing whilst off duty.

These two examples are not isolated of course. One can consider how utterly unpatriotic someone like Simon Schama is – a man who moved to the US but who constantly seizes upon the many opportunities presented to him by his association with the Labour Party (Tony Blair loved a celebrity endorsement after all) to appear on programs such as Question Time, Newsnight and various Sky pieces to tell us how we should continue to integrate with the European Union, how we require more progressive taxes, how we should embrace freedom of movement and so on and so forth. When dipping a level down from the glitzy historians, this trait then becomes rife – Linda Colley, Brandan Simms, Neil Gregor, even those who are not historians but present themselves as such when being interviewed on political history (I’m thinking the likes of the utterly wretched Bonnie Greer). It is probably only David Starkey who rises above this nauseating party line on the spectrum of historical “experts.”

Why then do these people, who have spent their lives professionally and personally immersing themselves in British history, hate either what we are, what we have become or (more importantly) what a great majority of people in this country want to be? I have two possible answers to this peculiar riddle. Firstly, that they actually genuinely hate everything about the actual history of Britain. They see it as racist, imperialistic, violent and misogynistic but therefore fascinating from the safety of a distant observatory platform and can be enjoyed rather like one can enjoy Game of Thrones. The liberal, watered-down, restrictive framework of society as it currently exists is far more to their liking and if they can wangle a career of researching and presenting the past to fund their lifestyles then they’ll take it. The second theory is that they are at best apathetic to the past but their views on current history and politics are essentially shaped by the indoctrination of academia. As people who have studied formally for longer than the average person, they have been subject to the huge influence of left wing thought which is rife throughout schools and universities (not so mention institutions such as the BBC) and therefore they have been lost to the system.

However, even if one of these theories is correct I still find it amazing that someone in such a position exposed to such a rich tapestry of wonder feels the way they do, seemingly wanting to tear the tapestry to the ground and burn it up, whilst benefiting from the salaried commentary position whilst the flames lick higher. All aboard the gravy train of history…