Henry Ford came up with what, for me, is one of the most annoying and untrue statements of all time when he claimed that “history is bunk”. Err… definitely not.
(And while I know he was focusing on what mattered to him, the there and then as he had obvious reasons for wanting to focus on the progress his cars were making, I still think this statement is rubbish, as recalling history should never mean not making progress. I really can’t fathom his reasoning here.). History is far too important to just be dismissed.
Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday
The importance of Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday cannot be overstated. It is vital that we remember. These things do not in themselves stop wars (unfortunately) but can and do shape our attitude to them.
And how can we appreciate the freedoms we have if we don’t recall just what it cost to get them? How ungrateful a nation would we be if we did forget?
One of the most moving events, for me, when watching the official commemoration at The Cenotaph in Whitehall each year is seeing the representatives from the Commonwealth nations place their wreaths. It is too easy to forget how much is owed to them – and those represented by the various groups taking part in the march past. The importance of remembering is stressed here, and rightly so.
History and Perspective – Richard III
History, then, is vital and not just from our own perspective. History is, after all, a continuing story and there is usually more than one side to the coin. Looking into history from different angles is important as perspective can and does change.
There is, for example, more sympathy to Richard III now (and more doubt about whether he did murder his nephews in the Tower) than there has been for some time. The discovery of his body in the car park helped no end there but it made people look again at Richard’s story and, of course, gave people like the Richard III Society the chance to air their perspective.
Local history keeps local memories alive. What may not be important in the overall scheme of things nationally is cherished by local people. I love visiting Eastleigh Museum when I get the chance to do so. Yes, it is small but, for me, that is a major part of its charm. I just love the idea of being able to walk in from the main street and go and immerse myself in a different era for a short while.
Chandler’s Ford Today
There is also the snapshot of what individual contributors are up to and what their interests are and some of these posts link up with other historical items. Even some of my writing posts, particularly on Shakespeare, Sir Bevis of Hampton and so on have a historical element to them.
As for national history, I agree with the statement that the nation that forgets its history is destined to relive it. That should never mean we live in the past (though we benefit hugely from the past via the tourism industry).
The successful nation, in my view, is a compassionate one that moves forward and at the same time remembers where it comes from, acknowledges its mistakes and at least tries to contribute positively in the world at large. (And is generally accountable to its people too. Democracy is not a perfect mechanism, nothing on earth is, but it has its virtues too).
And without history, how would we learn anything new in any subject? Yes, there are the innovators, the trail blazers and so on, but we all learn from what has gone before (and even the innovators do that, if only by avoiding the mistakes those previous to them made. They’ve got to know what those mistakes were so they can avoid them. This is particularly true for science otherwise the same experiments would be repeated time and again and there would be no breakthrough developments because of that repetition).
Why story writers need history (and not just for writing historical fiction!)
Story writers need to know things like the Three Act Structure to help structure their own stories in a way that we are used to reading. But again we have to know it exists, read up about how it works and so on before we can apply it. It is nothing new in itself given Aristotle is generally credited as being its inventor. (If it’s good enough for him, Shakespeare and so on, it’s definitely good enough for the rest of us!)
We can learn about how character works from (a) other stories in print or on the web, (b) from studying good quality how-to-write books or (c) going to writing conferences specifically on this aspect. But all knowledge derives from historical records of what was done where and when, by how and to whom. All that changes is what form the historical records are in!
So history is not bunk then. And it shouldn’t be dull either – as Monty Python proved with their “What have the Romans ever done for us?” sketch. Pleased to discover a wonderful musical version of this – hope you enjoy it.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.