Roundup: Talking About HistoryFollow RU: Talking About History on RSS and Twitter
This is where we excerpt articles about history that appear in the media. Among the subjects included on this page are: anniversaries of historical events, legacies of presidents, cutting-edge research, and historical disputes.
Those commentators who have recently proclaimed that Ronald Reagan's presidency was what sent communism into the dustbin of history seem to be over estimating the role that individuals play in history, and are also ignoring the role played by all American presidents from Harry Truman on who successfully contained the expansionist policies of the Soviet government.
One of the more intriguing theories has been put forth by students who assert that the Soviet system's fall was assured when the Czechoslovakian experiment with a more humane and tolerant form of Marxism was crushed by a Soviet military invasion.
In the Spring of 1968 the Government of Alexander Dubcek proclaimed that it wished to have what it described as"Socialism with a human face" in Czechoslovakia, and began to tolerate greater freedom of expression and even limited forms of political dissent. While Czech society reveled in its new found freedom and Dubcek became immensely popular, the other communist governments in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union became alarmed at the prospect of their citizenry demanding similar rights Dubcek, who was a dedicated communist, asserted that his reforms would serve to strengthen the communist system by making it more open, and believed that he could persuade the Soviet leadership to tolerate his policies as a result. But he was mistaken, and the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia and installed a hard lime communist government that was more to its liking.
If Dubcek's experiment had been permitted to continue it is possible that Czechoslovakia would have evolved, some historians believe, into a pluralist communist state that could have served as a model for the Soviet Union's own evolution towards political pluralism. When Mr. Gorbachev sought to reform Soviet society in a manner that was consistent with what Dubcek had attempted in Czechoslovakia, the Soviet system could not be saved by piece meal reforms at that time, and soon began to implode.
And it may be that the reasons for America's victory over the Soviet Union was rooted in the natures of their respective societies. Soviet society penalized individual initiative and restricted its citizens freedom in a variety of ways, while America was on the whole a tolerant society that permitted individual expression....
The Western world is decadent. Its emphasis on individualism is corrupt. Its materialism is dangerous. Its vision of modernity reflects not progress but regress. The West will destroy itself. But if it doesn't, its destruction should be helped along. True salvation can be found only by returning to ancient disciplines and beliefs.
Such views may not seem totally unfamiliar. Similar doctrines are held by Islamist terror groups and by those finding common cause with them. Writers like Paul Berman have already shown a connection between Islamist ideas and 20th-century Western Fascism, with its own atavistic hatreds of modernity. Some of these ideas have emerged on the political left, as well, appearing in Marxist thought and inspiring the anti-globalization movement. Their impact on the political and religious landscape has been profound.
But how did such ideas develop? One surprising source turns out to be a little-known group of 20th-century European intellectuals. They passed these ideas on to small groups of ardent followers, but their books and pamphlets gradually shaped a worldwide subculture of belief and devotion. Their loose-limbed movement, which began in the 1920's, has been called traditionalism.
The pioneers of traditionalism are not well known, but are now the subject of a new book by Mark Sedgwick, a historian of Islam who teaches at the American University in Cairo. He began writing"Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the 20th Century" (Oxford), thinking that it would be a study of Islam in the West, since many traditionalist figures were converts to Islam.
But he found that these conversions — many done in secret — were associated with broader religious theories. As he searched Web sites, sought reluctant interviewees and probed an esoteric culture, he also came upon traditionalism's intersection with Fascism, the influence of traditionalism on American religious studies and the influence of traditionalism on Islamic thought. The careers of its original advocates also turned out to be elaborately eccentric: magic and sorcery mixed with Hinduism and Sufism; scholarship mixed with calls for revolution; devotion mixed with cult.
Mr. Sedgwick's history of traditionalism, the first scholarly effort by an outsider, also sheds light on contemporary passions.
While the book is flawed by awkward organization and the need for more systematic examination of traditionalist ideas, it also makes clear how important this neglected movement is. On his Web site (www.traditionalists.org), Mr. Sedgwick lists more than 200 traditionalist organizations and Web sites in 34 countries. Even the arts now reflect traditionalist influence. The British composer, Sir John Tavener, whose seven-hour work,"The Veil of the Temple," will receive its United States premiere on July 24 as part of the Lincoln Center Festival, writes religious minimalist music and praises traditionalist writers, describing one, Firthjof Schuon (1907-98), as he"in whose mystical presence I live."
One of the central documents of traditionalism is a relatively brief book, first published in 1927,"The Crisis of the Modern World." Its author, René Guénon (1886-1951), born in Blois, France, to Catholic parents, had been a student of mathematics but soon turned to theosophy, Masonry, medieval Christianity, Hinduism and, finally, Islam. Guénon moved to Cairo and later seemed to retreat into solitude, fearing evil sorcery....
On a recent bright, muggy morning in Manhattan, the screenwriter David Franzoni was reclining in a low-slung chair in the tapestry-strewn barroom at the Ritz-Carlton hotel, across from Central Park, talking about history. Franzoni, who writes big clanging period pictures like"Gladiator" and"Amistad," was wearing jeans, an open-collared shirt and a loose jacket, and waving about a mop of thick black-gray hair (the last time he seems to have put a comb to it was when he accepted the Oscar for"Gladiator").
He was cursing copiously. Reverence was nowhere in sight. Everything was up for revision.
Franzoni on former presidents:"Jefferson -- what a jerk that guy was. Jefferson was an animal." Years ago Franzoni wrote a biopic of George Washington in which he dismantles the third president.
Franzoni on famous battles of yore:"So I'm beginning to think maybe Scipio actually got the crap kicked out of him at Carthage." He is working on a script about the Carthaginian general Hannibal, who is commonly thought to have lost to Scipio.
On the Greatest Generation:"I can't find any stories I like in World War II." And Camelot:"These guys were the Wild Bunch, not some shiny little cans of metal cruising around the countryside rescuing bored housewives from distress. These guys were killers."
Franzoni, who is 55, was especially animated on this last topic. He was in New York for the premiere of"King Arthur," his latest film, a $100-million-plus Jerry Bruckheimer-produced retelling of the legend of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Lerner & Loewe this is not:"I like to think about these knights as guys who came back from 'Nam. My description to Jerry was 'The fall of Saigon, the last chopper's on top of the embassy and they have to go, and these guys can't get out. They have to go up to the DMZ for one more run. Merlin's Ho Chi Minh, up there with his Viet Cong. We don't have him flying through the air talking to chipmunks.'"
Living the paradox of Hollywood's muckety-muck screenwriters, Franzoni, for all his clout, has seen his name in the credits of only a few films over his 25-year career, so premieres are always exciting for him. He'd brought along his wife and son, with whom he lives in Malibu.
Still, he was bothered. Disney had just cut"Arthur" to get a PG-13 rating, and he had no idea what the new print looked like."Here's what [ticks] me off about PG-13 -- you don't see the blood. You have people dying like in old Ronald Reagan movies again -- gloriously. PG-13 is like this '50s lobotimization of kids again. So a kid is from Iraq, and his family's been killed and he's lost a leg -- can he see an R-rated film?"
Lost legs -- this is how Franzoni sees history. His characters, when they're not busy being shackled in chains or declaiming on the rights of man, are usually dismembering each other. Franzoni believes that Arthur, for instance, was not a chivalrous medieval king but rather a tragic Roman mercenary with a weakness for humanist philosophy whose lot it was to be stuck in Britain while his empire fell around him. Assorted British cultural groups are objecting to the portrayal, as are some historians.
"The Celts despise our theory. We have a Celtic advisor on board, and he's always under fire." Franzoni was taking it in stride."Historians -- they're just drunk idiots in tweed." He likes to take a fatalist's view. In his eyes, America, like the Rome of"Gladiator," is an empire in decline."Ultimately we're going to fall," he said."This Patriot Act is the tenuous beginnings of the erosion of free speech. Rome fell -- it took a long time. We're going there, but it's a slow process. CNN was taken over by the Caesars a long time ago. You're not getting anything out of these people."
Franzoni may get his fascination with war from his father, a veteran who owned several companies, a gun maker among them, in Vermont, where Franzoni grew up. As a kid, he watched John Ford and Roger Corman movies."One night I stayed up really late, and 'All Quiet on the Western Front' was on. And I remember it was like I was hit with a hammer."
He studied paleontology at the University of Vermont and after college traveled to Germany, where he bought a cheap motorcycle. He rode it across Europe and western Asia. In Baghdad, he traded a book on the Irish Revolution with a traveling companion in return for"Those About to Die," a book about the Roman games. He was in thrall."The Romans had this unique vision of themselves -- they were born monsters and proud of it.
"Somewhere in India I decided I wanted to be a screenwriter," he added....
In its first academic year of operations, Students for Academic Freedom has become a nationwide campus movement dedicated to promoting intellectual diversity and to removing political partisanship from the classroom. SAF has inspired legislators in at least ten states and the U.S. Congress to take up the Academic Bill of Rights. Its website www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org has become a leading destination for college students across America. As the end of the school year approaches, it’s time to take stock of our record of accomplishment.
The creation of 135 chapters on as many college and university campuses across the country in just two school terms. Among the schools organized are Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Duke, Brown, UCLA, Berkeley, U. Wisconsin-Madison, Missouri, Emory, Georgia Tech, Michigan and American University.
These chapters are collecting documentation of political abuses in the classroom and advocating passage of the Academic Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights calls on colleges and universities to end discrimination in hiring practices based on political or religious beliefs and to promote intellectual diversity and academic freedom on campus. By exposing partisanship in the classroom to public scrutiny, SAF has helped to create nationwide awareness of widespread classroom indoctrination and partisan discrimination on college campuses.
United States Congressman Jack Kingston (R-GA) has introduced the Academic Bill of Rights as House Concurrent Resolution 318, which calls for colleges and universities to voluntarily end discrimination in hiring practices based on political or religious beliefs and to promote intellectual diversity on campus. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) has agreed to sponsor similar legislation in the U.S. Senate in September....
Other achievements (partial list):
San Francisco State University reversed the expulsion of student Tatiana Menaker, a Russian Jewish refugee, who had been expelled for five years after comments she made objecting to a Palestinian campus demonstration at which activists shouted “Hitler didn’t finish the job.” She was not granted a hearing in her own defense, but instead was immediately escorted off campus by three uniformed campus police officers. Students for Academic Freedom organized a “Tatiana Menaker Defense Committee” which succeeded in negotiating her immediate reinstatement as a student.
At Metro State (Denver) student George Culpepper was banned from the Political Science Association by its faculty advisor Oneida Meranto, along with all College Republicans. When he testified about the episode to a Senate hearing for the Academic Bill of Rights, Professor Meranto publicly attacked him in the Denver Post, claiming that his testimony was sour grapes because he was failing her class. In fact, Culpepper was earning a B+ in her course until he voluntarily dropped it because of her bias. In making this false statement to the press, Meranto violated the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA), which forbids teachers from discussing their students’ grades and educational progress publicly. SAF took up Culpepper’s defense, bringing widespread media attention and Meranto’s resignation as faculty advisor to the student Political Science Association.
At Georgia Tech, Ruth Malharto, a public policy major was told by her public policy professor that she would fail her course because she went to a conservative conference in Washington. SAF notified the dean of diversity at Georgia Tech, congressman Jack Kingston and the office of governor Sonny Perdue. All three intervened in behalf of the student who was allowed to withdraw from the course without penalty....
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you all very much. Thank you for that warm welcome. And, General, thank you very much for that introduction.
It's always great to see General Kelley, a man who has given so many years of dedicated service to America. Of course, now he's retired from active duty. But you don't want to make the mistake of calling him an ex-Marine - - there is no such thing. And, of course, P. X. is someone I'm very proud to call a friend, he is a great American. General, I want to thank you for the honor you do us today by being here with all of us. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
It's good to be back in New Orleans, and I bring you greetings from our Commander-in-Chief, President George W. Bush. (Applause.)
I'm also pleased to have the opportunity once again to visit the National D-Day Museum. The museum, of course, was founded by one of our nation's great historians, Stephen Ambrose. He was a friend. I was delighted to know him. And this place, as Dr. Ambrose once said, is the only museum in the United States devoted exclusively to World War II, and the only museum in the world that has as its central theme one day in the world's history, but what a day that was.
Last month, President Bush traveled to Normandy for the ceremonies that marked the 60th anniversary of D-Day. It was a moment to remember those who turned the tide of war in freedom's favor -- the heroes whose memories you keep alive, and whose achievements you celebrate, here in this museum each day.
The courage of America's World War II generation is now inspiring a new generation of Americans to lives of service in our nation's armed forces. At this hour, many thousands of those brave men and women are standing watch for freedom in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world. And like so many others who have served America in uniform, these young Americans are making this nation very proud. (Applause.)
The challenges we face in today's war on terror are different from those our countrymen faced six decades ago. Today's enemies send trained killers to live among us and attack civilians from within our own borders. They strike us not with tanks, but by taking the tools of everyday life -- aircraft, trucks and cars -- and turning them into weapons to kill innocent men, women and children.
We face a threat today unlike any our nation has ever known. Still, we can find parallels between this war and the struggle against tyranny in the 1940s. In that era, as in our own, our nation experienced a sudden attack that took many lives. Then, as now, our country responded by going on the offensive against freedom's enemies -- in Asia, in Africa, in Europe and around the globe. Then, as now, free nations came together to overthrow cruel dictators, and to liberate people suffering brutal oppression. Then, as now, our country faced the difficult challenge of reconstruction, as American GIs helped nations reclaim their sovereignty and build free societies.
It was not easy then. It is not easy now. Yet because America and our allies were steadfast, Germany and Japan became successful democracies and strong allies of the United States. And today, because a new generation of heroes has stepped forward to serve, Iraq and Afghanistan are making steady progress on the path to democracy and self-reliance. And we will see this mission through. (Applause.)
This week, only 15 months after the liberation of Iraq, we reached an important milestone, as the world witnessed the arrival of a free and sovereign Iraqi government. Iraqis saw a peaceful transfer of power take place in Baghdad, as Prime Minister Allawi and his Cabinet took full governing responsibility for their nation.
Before the transfer of sovereignty, another remarkable and unprecedented event took place: Iraq's new transitional administrative law was approved, a law that guarantees individual rights never known in the history of Iraq and still rare in the Middle East. Discrimination based on gender, nationality, and religion is expressly prohibited. Today, by law, every Iraqi man, woman and child is guaranteed freedom of religion; freedom of speech; the right to assemble peacefully; the right to organize political parties, the right to choose their leaders in free elections; and the right to a fair trial, with equal justice under the law. As I was on my way to the museum today, I couldn't help but think of my last visit here on April 9, 2003. That was the same day that Saddam Hussein's statue came down in Baghdad. (Applause.) Today, 15 months later, Saddam Hussein stands arraigned in an Iraqi court, where he will face the justice he denied to millions. (Applause.)
It is a historic transformation for that nation -- 15 months ago, it was under the absolute control of a dictator. With the assumption of power by the Iraqi interim government, and the enshrining of these rights in law, Iraq is now a country where the government will answer to the people, instead of the other way around. This is a proud moment for the United States, as well. Acting with capable allies at our side, we pledged to end a dangerous regime, to free the oppressed, and to restore sovereignty to the Iraqi people. And we have kept our word....
When beloved priests are revealed to be child molesters, Roman Catholic parishes, schools and dioceses face an uncomfortable choice: to remove existing tributes to the clerics and erase glowing references in local histories -- or explain to victims and critics why they continue to honor men who also were pedophiles.
This issue"taps into something that is very difficult for we humans to understand -- the tension that lies between the good that a person can do and the evil that we are all capable of," said Shirl Giacomi, a top administrator with the Diocese of Orange.
"People who have known only the good [the priest has done] have difficulty understanding the evil," she said."And people that have been hurt cannot, rightly so, understand the good."
Some church officials have opted to stick with the pre-revelatory status quo, arguing that history and achievements of the priests should not be obliterated by their misdeeds.
For instance, the official history of St. Cyril of Jerusalem Church in Encino credits its late pastor, Father Clinton Hagenbach, with establishing the parish's first teen club. No mention is made that he has been accused of sexually abusing 18 boys and that the archdiocese paid $1.5 million in 2002 to settle one of those claims.
Michael A. Harris -- accused of molesting 12 boys and the subject of a $5.2-million settlement for one of his alleged victims -- continues to be lauded in a 2003-04 parent handbook as a guiding force in the creation of the $26-million Santa Margarita High School in southern Orange County.
Similar stances can be found in dioceses across the country. In the Diocese of Knoxville, Tenn., a near-life-size bust of founding Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell, an admitted child molester, has been on display in the headquarters, and his picture hangs on the walls of schools and parishes there.
Knoxville officials said that the bust and portraits are not intended to honor O'Connell but are historical. It's an argument that victims' advocates find disingenuous.
"It shows what they say and what they truly believe are two different things," said Susan Vance, a Catholic school teacher and former nun in Oak Ridge, Tenn., who has fought to have the bust and photos removed.
For critics, the reluctance by some Catholics to publicly tarnish the legacy of popular priests reveals their real feelings -- that the accusations were false or that they shouldn't taint a long career dedicated to godly pursuits and the service of others....
Geoffrey Roberts, in the Irish Times (June 24, 2004):
The 60th anniversary of D-Day has once again highlighted the contribution of Irish volunteers in the British armed forces to the allied victory.
The best estimate is that some 70,000 citizens of the Irish Free State served in the British forces during the war, together with 50,000 from Northern Ireland.
This was half the number that enlisted in Ireland during the first World War, with, thankfully, only 5,000 fatalities, compared to the 30,000 who died in the trenches. But the southern Irish enlistment was a significant contribution from the citizens of a small, neutral state.
On this, as on previous anniversaries, the Irish media lauded the service and sacrifice of the Irish volunteers of the second World War. There was general agreement that the volunteers were fighting for Ireland as well as Britain, and that the allied victory safeguarded Irish freedom and independence.
As this paper's editorial said of the volunteers: "All of us on this island owe them a debt of gratitude" (June 4th).
But there remains an unfinished debate about the Irish State's neutrality during the war.
In his column on the anniversary weekend, Martin Mansergh rehearsed the arguments for Irish neutrality (June 5th). Neutrality protected a largely defenceless state from the horrors of war, and maintained national unity when participation on the allied side would have been deeply divisive, says Mr Mansergh. A neutral Ireland, he argued, was more beneficial to the Allies than an additional front to be defended, especially when Northern Ireland was providing the necessary military bases.
He attempts to defuse the debate about Ireland's neutrality by suggesting that it is all right to be both enthusiastic for the allied cause and proud of Irish neutrality. As he points out, most of the Irish volunteers - including the southern Protestants - supported Ireland's neutrality. As Denis Johnston, who served as a BBC war correspondent, wrote in his diary in 1942: "It is my belief in Ireland's neutrality that has so largely sent me forth. Only those prepared to go into this horrible thing themselves have the right to say that Ireland must stay out."
There are powerful strategic and political arguments in favour of Irish neutrality. As de Valera argued at the time, when small states involve themselves in major wars they put at risk their very existence, and they control neither the course of the war nor the peace that follows. It also is true that neutrality was a popular, unifying policy, which cemented the identity and loyalty of the citizens of the 26-county Irish State.
The problem with this defence of neutrality is threefold.
First, the difficulties entailed by Irish participation in the war should not be allowed to obscure the moral and political issue confronting the country. Both national interest and morality demanded the defeat of Nazi barbarism. But the Irish State kept equal distance from all the combatants. Even when the war was over, de Valera refrained from publicly endorsing the justice of the allied cause.
The amorality of Irish wartime neutrality was summed up by de Valera's infamous visit to the German ambassador in Dublin in April 1945 to present his condolences on the death of Hitler.
As Robert Fisk said, "morally, it was both senseless and deeply wounding to the millions who had suffered in the war; politically, it could have been disastrous. But symbolically, it could not be misunderstood: Eire had not accepted the values of the warring nations and did not intend to do so in the future."
Second, while the case for maintaining Irish neutrality in the early years of the war was very strong, it made less sense as the war progressed. In 1941 the Soviet Union and the US entered the war. In 1942 the tide of the war began to turn in favour of the Allies.
The military danger to Ireland was now minimal, and there were opportunities to participate in the allied struggle at relatively low risk, or at the very least to modify the neutrality policy towards the allies.
This was a choice exercised by a number of neutral states during the war. Indeed, the great allied coalition of 1945 was largely made up of formerly neutral states. Any change in the policy of neutrality would have meant internal political difficulties for the Irish State. But the opportunity to effect a gradual shift in policy towards the allies did exist.
De Valera's failure to countenance such a course of action was informed more by party politics than the national interest. His main concern was the split in Fianna Fail that would occur if neutrality was abandoned. More importantly, de Valera's priorities were domestic rather than international.
Third, wartime neutrality cost the country dearly in the post-war years. For North-South relations, neutrality was a disaster. Neutrality reinforced partition, strengthened unionist rule in Ulster and ensured the post-war isolation of the northern Catholic community....
Max Hastings, in the Daily Telegraph (June 26, 2004):
At one extreme of the spectrum, the task of interpreting history for the media may mean writing a handsomely rewarded 2,000-word article for the Daily Mail, as I did the other day on the theme: "Why are history's great men so often four-letter men?"
I am not ashamed of what I wrote, but nor would I claim that writing of this kind represents any attempt upon the higher peaks of culture. The most that can be said of it is that it distributes modest crumbs of historical knowledge at tables where otherwise the past remains a very misty, remote place.
Work of this kind is, of course, incomparably easier than that which takes place at the scholarly end of the business, where a researcher might devote months to archival research, eventually to generate an essay for a learned journal on land tenure in Worcestershire in the 14th century, which will be read by fewer than 100 people.
I suspect that even the most devoted seekers after truth will concede that such pieces can make arid, if not outright dreary, reading. But the process of primary research holds pride of place at the head of the river. If it did not take place, if academic researchers were not out there doing the work from which my colleagues and I will gather flotsam many miles downstream, there would be no history to be popularised by the media.
There always has been, and always will be, mutual jealousy between hacks and scholars. Many journalists would like to have been scholars, if they had been willing to accept the terms - working without benefit of fame for very modest financial rewards.
Many academics, by contrast, daydream about what wonderful television presenters they would make, if only they did not possess too much integrity to abandon their research and compromise their standards.
It should console scholars that there is a powerful inverse relationship between the breadth of reach a given medium offers, and the penetration of its content to the audience.
In the days when I worked full time in television, people often came up to me in the street and said: "I saw you on the telly last night." But they seldom had the smallest idea of what I had been talking about, or knew which country I had been reporting from. Recognition was high, but understanding was low. Television is a brilliant medium of impression; it is a much less satisfactory medium of analysis.
There is a much better chance of a plausible dialogue with a reader, if one writes a book or contributes to a scholarly publication. If somebody can be bothered to buy the book or subscribe to the magazine, there is a fair chance they will read it.
What historical evidence can I offer, to justify this assertion? The anecdotal testimony of correspondence. I am often impressed by the sensible, well-argued comments of people who write letters, whether friendly or otherwise, about my books. People who watch television scarcely seem able to compose letters at all. If they write to presenters, it is usually to solicit help in solving domestic problems relating to their husbands or cats.
Television, as Antony Jay once said, is a visual medium, in which it is essential that the words follow the pictures, rather than the other way around. This is a painful lesson for many writers....
I am intrigued by the manner in which the media doggedly stick with certain historical lines about the war, even after generations of researchers and historians have demonstrated their falsity. For instance, the media take a relentlessly chauvinistic view about the scale of British achievement in the Battle of Britain. Of course, the RAF's stand against the Luftwaffe in 1940 was important, and of course, the RAF did well. But the Luftwaffe moved east in 1941 not because it had been destroyed or defeated, but because Hitler's principal ambitions lay in Russia, and not in Britain, which he correctly perceived as impotent to challenge his ambitions on the continent. I found myself debating on television recently with a German writer named Jorge Friedrich, who has written a book suggesting that the British are still deeply unwilling to examine their own breaches of the laws of war between 1939 and 1945, while the British media indulge in constant eager examinations of Germany's. He is quite right. When I began writing about the war 25 years ago, I was shocked to discover that allied troops quite often shot prisoners, a practice I had been brought up to suppose was exclusively the privilege of German SS men. It is not that I am a debunker; I enjoy as much as any writer being able to describe how the British did some things rather well. But I am intrigued by the manner in which media sentiment about the Second World War, in particular, continues to run on familiar railway lines....
Richard Garner, in the Independent (June 27, 2004):
Robert Harris, the best-selling author of historical thrillers, called on history teachers yesterday to embrace the techniques of novelists and television dramatists to bring the subject to life.
Speaking at a gathering of eminent historians, writers and teachers brought together by the Prince of Wales, the author of Fatherland and Enigma said: "We should restore the importance of the narrative when we approach the subject. The human brain latches on to stories, not disjointed facts. Students also have empathy with historical characters - get them to imagine being in a particular place at a particular time and they will understand it better than restricting themselves entirely to the facts."
The annual royal "summer school", held this year at Buxton, also heard from Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, who said that current history lessons are neglecting the slave trade and its part in the rise of Liverpool as the second trading city in Britain.
He called for more emphasis on the teaching of British ethnic groups' contribution to UK history to promote better integration.
"What we don't do enough of is to refer to where we have been," he said. "We should be teaching them about their role in British history."
Niall Ferguson, a former Oxford don and presenter of a Channel 4 series on
the history of the British Empire, claimed too much concentration on "Hitler
and the Henrys" had dealt a massive blow to students' understanding of
history. He said too many schools were choosing the same options for exam study
- Hitler, or the history of the Tudors and Stuarts....