A lot of people these days have scant regard for history. Whether local, national, or world history, they think it has little or no relevance to their lives. It was something that happened at a time that didn’t concern them. A time when there was no Internet, video games, or fast-food outlets. Not even a phone, let alone a mobile phone. History is falling out of favour. Less people are studying it, and fewer people than ever before have an active interest in it. An unscientific random poll of younger people I know shows an alarming lack of knowledge about it, allied to an active and vocally expressed disinterest in anything to do with it.
Personally speaking, I cannot imagine any subject more interesting. How we got to where we are today, what caused the international issues and problems we experience on a daily basis, and how the iconic buildings we admire came to be built. The origins of language, our genetic make-up, and everything we are. It’s all history. Once you have read this post, it will become part of history. Everything we touch, make, discuss, or admire. All of that is tomorrow’s history. It is inescapable, yet hardly given a moment’s thought. Wars, religions, ruling dynasties, lines drawn on maps, and empires built then fallen. The amazing story of the modern world, overlooked for a Facebook page, or a chat on Whatsapp. Send a tweet, a photo of what you are wearing, or what you had for lunch, and it becomes history, whether you appreciate it, or not.
The Internet has made history personal, in a way that could never have been imagined, when monks dutifully copied books, or women sewed the Bayeaux Tapestry, in 1067. We have memorial days for historical characters, remembrance days for those fallen in wars. But how long will all this last, if younger generations decide that it is no longer of interest, and does not need to be celebrated, or remembered? Wherever you live, you are surrounded by history. The history of indigenous peoples, ancient stones and monuments, churches, cathedrals, statues, and art. But if it no longer matters to you, then it will be lost, possibly forever.
People visit amazing countries like Egypt, then describe it as a ‘lot of old stones’. Some wander around iconic sites, with no comprehension of how old they really are, or their importance in the development of mankind. Just get that selfie, with it in the background, and job done. Others visit Mayan and Aztec remains, then complain about the heat, or the lack of facilities, somehow expecting history to be sanitized to their modern tastes. For many, the dates merge. One war seems much like another, until they are unable to separate WW1 from WW2 for example. Go back further, say to the English Civil War, and a blank expression comes over their faces. Every country suffers from this lack of interest, it seems. From British people who know little or nothing about the Romans, or Anglo Saxons, to Americans who think the world began in 1776.
Perhaps the school system is to blame? I recall much of my official history teaching centred around things like the Industrial Revolution; railways, and the invention of machinery. The Corn Laws, the electoral reform, and the progress during the Victorian Age. It needs to be more interesting, to adopt a wider scope, be relevant to localities, and things you can actually see, without having to make a trip to a dusty museum in London, or any capital city. When we watch things on the news, whether 9/11, the wars in the middle east, or terror attacks in cities, that is all about history. People ask, ‘Why’? But they have never been taught the background, those very reasons why. And even if they have been, they thought it was something that they didn’t need to know.
There is a very old adage, penned by George Santayana.
“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.
George got that right. Let’s all try our best to inspire younger people to get interested in history again. Stop them repeating all the mistakes that are there, for everyone to see.