Monday, February 04, 2008

British people losing track of their own history

I can just imagine what Doug Belshaw thinks of this!

To be honest, I'm having a bit of a wry chuckle. It is a regular British pastime to make derogatory remarks about American intelligence and general knowledge. My own experience is that many English people are no better informed, and a recent survey would seem to bear this out.

It seems one in four British people think that Winston Churchill and Florence Nightingale were fictitious characters, while about half think Sherlock Holmes was real. I can understand a measure of ignorance around the "lady of the lamp" - after all, she was around during the Crimean War, but Churchill's lifespan and mine overlapped, so an enormous number of Britons alive today must have heard and seen the man's state funeral. And, since he (and Ms Nightingale, for that matter) loomed large in my own history curriculum in far away, darkest (okay, so it was probably lightest, so sue me!) Africa, I simply cannot fathom how he escaped the notice of so many people in his homeland.

It may well be that Churchill featured so prominently in the South African history syllabus because of the time he spent there during the second Anglo-Boer war, but that wouldn't explain the inclusion of Florence Nightingale.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of the survey was that of Charles Dickens who appears to have been a fictional character featuring in his own books!


Anonymous said...

I despair Karyn, I really do...

It's probably something to do with the media-tization (if that's such a word) of History. Everything is treated with equal respect and with a mock-serious tone.

So yes, it's not time to be teaching LESS History, it's time to be teaching MORE! :-)

Anonymous said...

Doug: I took history all the way through to the end of my secondary school career. I loved it! I loved the narrative aspect and the way everything could be woven together. I loved it when the teacher unpicked a thread of some current event and traced it back to the assassination of Hendrik Verwoerd, or the disenfranchisement of the Cape Coloured population. I loved discovering that the great figures of history were real people.

What I hated was having to remember it all! I hated having to know when the Crimean War started, and what the cause was of each of the (many) wars between the Afrikaner and the Xhosas and the Zulus and the English and and and

And I was completely unable to hold all the pictures in my head at once. I couldn't figure out the relationship between what was happening in Germany and what was happening in Japan just before World War II. I could only think of each country, each significant incident in isolation.

I got an E.