Friday, 4 June 2010

Can we create a common history for a 'broken' society?

A typically eloquent article by Martin Kettle appears in today’s Guardian. In it, Kettle confronts the problem of creating a common history for a multicultural society (some might call it fractured or ‘broken’) such as Britain. He also questions whether we should label as ‘right wing’ historians such as Niall Ferguson, who has called for the teaching of an arch of national history, allying himself with the new education secretary Michael Gove. Kettle quite rightly points out that Ferguson’s sentiments are not much different to those of the late, great Marxist historian Raphael Samuel, perhaps the most incisive commentator on our shared – and not shared – past. One of the most interesting comments made by Samuel during the last Conservative administration, when History Today contributor Lord Baker was education secretary, was that Tories were fundamentally committed to some idea of national history, even though it might be of a very different interpretation to that of left-wingers like Samuel. Most senior Labour politicians were merely indifferent or feared opening up a debate on contested identities. But which path is best? We all have to confront history at some point, especially in times of crisis.

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