The study of past events, particularly in human affairs.
Many educators argue that we study history in order to challenge and erase the wrongdoing of our ancestors. By looking at the past through the lens of enlightened modernity, we can expose the dark forces and immoral actions that made us who we are today. History lessons are only effective when they induce guilt, shame and anger.
Re-writing books and pulling down statues helps us to re-invent the present by attacking the past, without the cumbersome need to develop a vision for the future.
Orwell wrote in 1984 that:
“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”
But Orwell did not account for the superior moral sensitivities that today’s education system has been able to impart to society. Those who have tasked themselves with editing history have the expertise and hindsight needed to cleanse the past in an appropriate way. Orwell was blinded by his own imperfect history. If he had known then what we know now he would not have questioned the wisdom of such absolute convictions.
Although the current Archbishop of Canterbury is currently discussing which statues to remove from the nation’s churches and whether or not to change the image of Jesus throughout British churches, it can be confirmed that he is not a member of ‘the Party’.
As a people, we are a loose collection of customs, habits, outlooks and traditions, largely inherited from previous generations. Only when people look back with disgust and shame at these generations, can we be open to a new way of thinking. By successfully disconnecting people from their past, we can erode their sense of belonging and liberate them to experience the full force of the present. In this way people can be fully re-made in the crucible of our constantly changing contemporary thinking.
Historian Robert Tombs said that “treating the past as grotesque and inferior is the attitude of the tourist who can see nothing ‘Abroad’ but dirt and bad plumbing.”
It’s time we became tourists in our own country by alienating ourselves from the past and looking at history with a growing sense of revulsion.