Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Conservative Historian Simon Schama to Collaborate with the Tories

According to Richard Grayson writing in the Guardian newspaper albeit in a personal capacity putting the conservative historian Simon Schama in the classroom would “reshape the history curriculum”. Using his storytelling talents would be a good start”.

The words blood bank and Dracula comes to mind. Grayson then goes on to talk up Schama as “a brilliant historian who understands the problem of narrative”. Well, many historians understand narrative. The most important thing is what narrative. To paraphrase the historian E Edward. H . Carr, it would be better to study the narrator before you study the narrative.

Given that this is one of the most right-wing Tory governments since Margaret Thatcher then the narrative will be conservative and in defence of the long-gone British Empire. Grayson does make one good point that he “wondered if the government understands what is going on in state schools today when it comes to history teaching”.

It does not. The Torie's perspective is not really to improve the historical understanding of students but instead is looking for an ideological justification for cuts jobs and working conditions and inculcating a new generation of pupils with a very right-wing view of history.

At the recent Conservative conference the Tories ideological bankruptcy was further exposed when they had to rely on what the press has described as an ex-Marxist who wants “to axe bad teachers and drive out the unions”.

Katharine Birbalsingh according to newspapers said the education system was ‘broken as it keeps poor children poor’. Birbalsingh flirtation with Marxism must have brief and is just being used by the Tories to justify their right wing agenda.

Grayson then attempts to whitewash Schama’s ideological persuasion by saying “One of the key strengths of Schama's work points to one of the problems of "narrative". Schama's take on history is a personal take. A History of Britain was precisely that: 'A' not 'The' history. I do not doubt that Schama recognises the partiality of his approach. It is the same for any historian. We do not state at the start of each book, "this is only my view", but we all know it, despite the accusations that postmodernist theorists have tried to pin on the profession”.

There you go no one has to be responsible for a particular narrative, then history is just a collection of opinions, narratives and has no objective basis or truth.

Gove also said that education had been undermined by left-wing “ideologues” who believed schools “shouldn’t be doing anything as old-fashioned as passing on knowledge, requiring children to work hard, or immersing them in anything like dates in history or times tables in mathematics.” “These ideologues may have been inspired by generous ideals, but the result of their approach has been countless children condemned to a prison house of ignorance,”
This statement makes clear that any lingering egalitarian sentiments expressed in the current education system will not be tolerated.

The announcement that Schama was to help rewrite the history curriculum has received widespread media coverage. The Financial Times recently carried an interview with the Michael Gove, the education secretary, said recently that he would not have left school without learning "British narrative history".
It is clear that the Tories would like to introduce a more nationalistic form of narrative. “Children are growing up ignorant of one of the most inspiring stories I know – the history of our United Kingdom. “Our history has moments of pride and shame, but unless we fully understand the struggles of the past, we will not properly value the liberties of the present."

This is pretty rich from a government who are hell-bent on trampling civil liberties, expelling immigrants and carrying out a slash and burn policy towards education which will do great harm.

The Tories are good at making big announcements regarding which conservative historian will rewrite the curriculum, but these announcements are significant to smokescreen their real intentions to slash budgets, cut jobs and union busting.

For historians Niall Ferguson and Simon Schama this collaboration may look good on their CV and will also sell their books, but both will be damned for their collaboration with the Tories cuts in public spending.

Also, one point these historians fail to notice is that if the cuts go through unopposed then access to libraries for historians, researchers and the public will be cut and will damage historical research. Already the British Library has announced future cuts in jobs and funding.

This right-wing agenda will provoke global social unrest. Schama has already warned of this. Writing in the Financial Times May 24, for example, the historian stated, “Far be it for me to make a dicey situation dicier but you can’t smell the sulphur in the air right now and not think we might be on the threshold of an age of rage.… in Europe and America there is a distinct possibility of a long hot summer of social umbrage.”

As if in answer to Schama and his friends Chris Marsden writing for the wsws.org wrote “When Karl Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto that “a spectre is haunting Europe,” he did so on the eve of the revolutionary eruptions that began in Italy and France in 1848 and engulfed much of the European continent. In recent days, some media commentaries have predicted a similar eruption of social unrest of revolutionary dimensions as a direct result of the worsening economic crisis. These warnings are accompanied by dire predictions that Europe will suffer the return of nationalist tensions, the emergence of fascist movements and even war”.


1. Improve history in schools? Put Simon Schama in every classroom by Richard Grayson. Grayson is one of three vice-chairs of the Liberal Democrat federal policy committee (writing in a personal capacity) and professor of twentieth-century history at Goldsmiths, University of London. Guardian 2010
2. Europe’s media warn of global social unrest-2 June 2010- www.wsws.org

3. Historian Warns New Age of Rage http://keith- perspective.blogspot.com/2010/06/historian-warns-of-new

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