Wasn’t it cool they built the castle next to the railway?: Or why we need historians, not economists.
Perhaps unfairly, the image of the American tourist in Europe is one of a person separated from history to the extent that they think that everything old is the same age. Hence the urban myth of the American who exclaims, upon sighting an 800 year old castle next to a 100-year old railway line, “gee, wasn’t it cool they built the castle next to the railway so they could get supplies in?”
I’ve found Americans travelling in Europe never so ignorant, but I am lamenting the fact that we, in Britain, are becoming so divorced from any historical narrative that such a myth could now well apply to many Brits under the age of 40. History has died a death as an academic discipline. It’s useless learning, after all. We need mathematicians, scientists, engineers, economists, business people, bankers. We don’t need historians. And so History, as a subject, and as a concept, has been buried in a pauper’s grave of everything we consider irrelevant to our modern lives. Schools drop it from the subjects they offer, and soon, very soon, there will be no public funding for History (or any liberal arts subjects, in British universities). Not even the History Channel or Yesterday Channel will take up the slack, with their relentless focus on tank movements in World War II (after all, there’s lots of footage so programmes can be made cheaply. Roman costumes cost more).
The trouble is that it is the failure to “get” history which has allowed those economics and finance majors to wreck our economy and plunge us into the worst depression since the 1930s. We are in the worst depression since the 1930s, ironically, because we failed to remember the lessons of 1930s banking: do not let your bankers police themselves. Had we had history majors in charge, the financial crisis might well have been avoided.
If we do not take an interest in history we lose our place in the Great Narative, but most importantly, we become easily controlled and manipulated, and like the proverbial mushroom, easily kept in the dark and fed bullsh*t. The death of a people’s history – their self-narative, is a commonality which precedes genocide. Without our history we are lost.
We become that ignorant tourist, unable to see the historical context or significance of any event, that the railway is younger than the castle, that the Apocryphal Gospel of St Thomas was written between 200-400 years after the birth of Christ, whereas St Luke’s gospel was written within living memory (why then the Da Vinci Code-Type speculation about which one is more likely to be accurate?), or that letting your financiers do what they want is a crap idea. We lose the lessons we have learned about sacrificing freedom for security.
Of course, the death of History is good for Authority. Authority hates historians, in the same way it hates storytellers, artists and poets, as the truth, with these individuals, will out, always. Always first against the wall, they are, come the ideological purge.
This too, a lesson from a history many now will never know.