History Matters. This is the name of a campaign launched in Britain by English Heritage, the National Trust and the Heritage Lottery Fund in order to find out exactly what people think about history and its place in everyday life. By doing this they hope to create a heightened public awareness of the value of history in the present in order to preserve Britain’s heritage in the future.
I read about this campaign in the July and August editions of the BBC History Magazine. This magazine by the way, is a publication, which covers not only British history but also world history so it is relevant to anyone who is interested in history in general. Its contributors are all highly respected writers, historians, professors and broadcasters and they all put a different spin on the interpretation of history which I find refreshing.
The “History Matters” website states the following about the aims of the “History Matters – Pass it on” campaign:
“…it is all about raising awareness of the importance of history in our everyday lives and encouraging involvement in heritage in England and Wales. Our goal is to build public support and interest in looking after our history and heritage - today and in the future.”
So, here I am, thousands of kilometres away in sunny South Africa thinking “How does this affect me? Why does history matter to me?’ Firstly I have a sneaky suspicion that I am just a very nosy person who likes to know ‘what went on back then’, why people did what they did and ultimately what the consequences of their actions were. I get a kick out of unraveling mysteries but more than this, it is understanding one’s own ancestral past and indeed the past on a global scale which is the key to understanding issues that are still with us today. Issues that will influence our own decisions, the consequences of which will appear in the history books of tomorrow.
Trying to live exclusively in the present is like looking at a tapestry from very close up. You see all the intricate stitching, texture and some colours but you will not know what the tapestry depicts until you stand back and are able to see the entire thing. Sounds simplistic but it is actually that simple.
One of the people who was asked by BBC History Magazine to give her view of why history matters was Ludmilla Jordanova, a professor of history at Kings College, London. Amongst other things she said: “It matters because it is everywhere, in streets and houses, parks and palaces, machines and money, places of worship and gardens of remembrance. How can we, an essentially nosy species, not care about what envelops and shapes us?”
I couldn’t agree more.
Everywhere you look there are little historical signposts in our lives – the ones which, with a little bit of investigation, reveal new horizons and take us on journeys where we will learn to understand and place in perspective the things that influenced our ancestors, the things that shaped our present landscapes. Every step of the way, if one is observant enough we come to an “O-o-h so that’s why!!” moment in our day-to-day lives. But only if we are willing to see these things; only if we are taught to recognize the value of what we are looking at.
One thing that really made my eyebrows rise a notch or two when I read about this campaign is that Britain is so history conscious, they are surrounded by it wherever they go, wherever they live because it is so visible. There are 900 year old churches in just about every village. There are castles and palaces, Roman ruins and battlefields. Their tourism industry thrives on this and their historical buildings are generally well preserved. Britain’s museums are actively promoted. In fact Britain’s entire brand image is History. Why then would they feel the need to launch a campaign of this nature if they had not detected a shift in their nation’s respect for and perception of the past? That’s a scary thought. If they perceive a problem with all they’ve got then down here at the Southern tip of Africa we need to take a long hard look at our own situation.
We stand on the brink of new historical awareness, one that still needs to be grown but if Britain feels the need to launch a campaign of this nature then we ought to re-examine how much effort and funding goes into the building of our own nation’s historical identity and public awareness of the past. Is enough being done?
BBC History Magazine