The silly season is upon us, and I hereby proclaim that the award for the silly gimmick of the year must be given to a campaign calling itself History Matters.
This is run by all the leading history quangos: all the usual suspects have signed up – The National Trust, English Heritage, Heritage Link, the CBA all count themselves as sponsors, and lots of T.V. personalities have been taken on board as partners – David Starkey, Stephen Fry, Bill Bryson, Tony Benn, Boris Johnston, Old Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all.
History Matters was launched in July with a grand History Matters ‘declaration’ and everybody is urged to sign up: enter your name and location on their web site and declare your support that “we believe history matters”. All this I suppose seems common sense – so why am I vaguely uneasy? Two reasons, I think. Firstly, what happens to your name and address after you sign up? What they don’t do, and what they ought to do, is to forward these names and address to the relevant local history society so that they can gain some new recruits. They might at least give a link to our web site so that supporters can find their local societies. Instead they ask local groups ‘please organise your own local history event’. In other words they want local groups to support them, but they are not prepared to support local groups.
And secondly, there is what might be called the ‘Mussolini’ factor. There is a hidden agenda, – what they are really trying to do is to persuade the government to give the relevant quangos – that is the organisers, more money. It is in effect urging more centralised control of History. Yet do we need more centralised control of history? Or should we be paying more attention to the peripheries?
And finally, a naughty thought. If history matters, how about some TV programmes on the origins of Islam, showing that whereas Christianity was spread (largely) by missionaries, Islam was spread largely by war. History may indeed matter: but is it always politically correct?
This opinion comes from CA issue 205