December 15, 2003

Rebecca Fraser does a plug in the Telegraph for her own book about Britain's history. Fair enough. She's in favour of a more systematic and chronological approach than is now the tendency in schools, regretting the way that the National Curriculum jumps about illogically, emphasising this period but ignoring that one, and doing it in a random order.

I was made to learn history dates at school, and whereas I didn't and don't like being made to do anything, this particular piece of compulsoriness still makes sense to me. This is how I would sell history to any pupil customers I was trying to interest. How can you get to grips with history without knowing very approximately (and then in ever greater detail) when everything in the past happened? How can you get into the minds of people in the past, which is what the newer syllabuses are supposed to do best, if you don't know what major historical dramas and upheavals these people have just been through?

Take a really huge history date, like the Black Death. 1349 was the date I was taught for that horror. Setting aside the fact that "1349" is probably a bit too exact for this horror, how can you expect to make sense of how it was to be alive in Europe in the year 1400, say, if you ever for a moment forget that half a century earlier a third of the population of Europe was wiped out in a horrible plague?

Perhaps one of the less obvious effects of 9/11, an event we refer to now and may always refer to by its date, will be to slam back into the head's of history teachers and history students that when things happen is often one of the most memorable things about things. Where were you when …? A major date is not just a matter for historians. It's part of the experience of life itself. And of course yesterday, December 14th 2003, was another pretty big date, I'd say.

If you still doubt any of this, try saying "1966" to an English soccer fan.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:31 PM
Category: History