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Historiography

D. To Persuade?

▪ History can also be used as a form of persuasion or propaganda. To justify present day values and policies, the past can either be demonised (“Victorian Britain was disgustingly racist, sexist and homophobic”) or idealised (“Victorian Britain was not afraid to stress its belief in community, family, authority and self-help”).


Method 1: Using history to oversimplify issues

Those wishing to avoid or delay change will use history as nostalgia.

Details

This boils down to the fact that people and societies like to see themselves as “part of a process” and are naturally uneasy about drastic, sudden change. This makes people unwilling to accept change or to move forward; the present unease about immigration levels into the UK is partly founded on the largely belief that the country used to have a much tighter national identity characterised by warm beer, cricket on Sundays followed by tea with the vicar and maybe fish and chips for supper (when the Home Secretary announced that “Chicken Tikka Massala is the new national dish” a few years ago there was uproar). The invention of the coronation ceremony was a product of the late nineteenth century to combat republicanism; so too was the change of the Royal family’s name to “Windsor” during World War One.

Those wishing to pursue or accelerate change will use history to stress how such developments are a long-term trend and nothing to be worried about.

Details

Current history syllabuses in the UK encourage teachers to present immigration as a “good thing” for a country – economically, socially and culturally – and official announcements stress that “Britain has always been a nation of immigrants”. Hitler cunningly presented his regime as “The Third Reich” to stress its heritage with the previous two.


Method 2: Using history to complicate issues

▪ Too little history is a bad thing; but so is too much. History can be used to keep wounds open, to perpetuate the mistakes and prejudices of the past rather than move on from them.

Northern Ireland

Details

▪ The problems of Northern Ireland are difficult to solve because both sides are being crushed by their sense of history. Ancient religious differences between Irish Catholics and English Protestants lie at the root of the problem – but when did two people last come to blows over the nature of transubstantiation in the sacrament of the Eucharist? The subsequent (sometimes brutal) colonisation of Northern Ireland by Protestant English then feeds into the picture – William of Orange’s defeat of (Catholic) James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 is still celebrated by “Orange Parades” each year which frequently flare into outright violence.

The Middle East

Details

▪ A similar situation exists in the Middle East. Most of us know there is a conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, but we find it difficult to understand the depth of the conflict: the Jewish people claim a right to live in Israel based on the fact they lived their almost 2000 years ago before being expelled by the Romans, since when they became people without a homeland, persecuted for centuries and most recently in the Holocaust. The Arabs contend that this is history being used for political purposes.

▪ The danger is that this “burden of history” can be used to justify a lack of change: these problems are clearly insoluble, so why bother even trying?

Memorial Days

Details

▪ There are now a whole range of “Memorial Days” on the calendar. They arguably create more confusion than they are worth. Read through the following and decide which purpose sounds most accurate for each of the examples.

. .

Possible Purpose 1

Possible Purpose 2

Armistice Day

11 th November

To honour the war dead and admire the sacrifices they made for their countries

To pity the war dead and reflect on the utter futility of war

Holocaust Memorial Day

27 th January

To reflect on the suffering of all victims of racial persecution

To stress the unique suffering of Jews and therefore their right to be in Israel

Slavery Memorial Day

25 th March

To celebrate the abolition of slavery in the British Empire

To highlight the collective guilt of the British people for slavery and their obligation to compensate black people for it

 

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