Whose History is it, Anyway?

History was one of the subjects I quite enjoyed at school. I wasn’t so keen on the ancient history we started off with, but I found later history interesting. I also liked the fact that the History teacher often chose me to read from the text book while the English teacher never did. I was disappointed when I couldn’t continue History to O-level because of timetable conflicts.

Printing PressHow much of my three years of History do I remember now? Not a lot. Certainly not the lists of dates I memorised then. But there are some facts I remember learning – like the invention of the printing press by William Caxton, for instance. In fact all the people and places we learned about were either British or involved in wars against Britain. I didn’t really question why this was. I sort of assumed that only Britain mattered in the world.

Anyway, I was British and it was good to know how important Britain was, especially while the news was often about the colonies that Britain was losing.

In some ways I felt the history we learned belonged to me while in others I didn’t. Jews were never mentioned in that history. The only time I heard about Jews of the past at school was in an English lesson when we started studying The Merchant of Venice. The teacher said, “I know that a lot of you are Jewish and there has been some criticism of the portrayal of the Jew in this play. You have to remember that there were no Jews in England at the time it was written because they’d been expelled, so Shakespeare didn’t actually know any Jews.”

“Hmm,” I thought. “Why weren’t we told about that expulsion in History lessons?”

Then I found a book at home called The History of the Jews in England, and I actually read it just out of interest, because I identified with the people mentioned in it more than I did with the kings and queens and everyone else in my school text books.

I digress. Where was I? The printing press and the trigger for this post. It was a BBC Radio 4 series called Germany: Memories of a Nation. In one of the episodes I learned something that surprised me: the printing press was invented by Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany. William Caxton visited Gutenberg in Mainz and introduced Gutenberg’s invention to the English.

Why didn’t we learn this at school? Why was British history the only history? Why were deeds of note by foreigners transferred to British people?

I wonder if this has changed since I was at school.

By Miriam Drori

Author, editor, attempter of this thing called life. Social anxiety warrior. Cultivating a Fuji, edition 3, a poignant, humorous and uplifting tale, published with Ocelot Press, January 2023.

8 replies on “Whose History is it, Anyway?”

A gradual change has been occuring for some time now. For instance, though some banks, government departmens and schools close for Columbus holiday (a USA holiday), most places don’t. And most also know more now of some of the less than savory tactics used by Columbus when he arrived at a land he thought was India, thus we have West Indians.

I heard the saying, “History is little more than a tale of things by the victors.” I can’t help thinking how true a statement that is.

Have you read “The Load of Unicorn” by Cynthia Harnett – child’s book but wonderfully detailed about Caxton? If you haven’t I think you would enjoy it.

I found this very interesting. Growing up in the USA, our history was much the same. As a relatively young country they really couldn’t take credit for everything, but there was a definite slant in favor of the US involvement and contributions to almost everything. I wonder if this is typical of every nation and the way they teach their own personal brand of history to the young.

It must be even more common in totalitarian states. It’s probably one of the main reasons why nations can’t get along with each other. Each believes they are the only worthy people. All the rest are either bad or insignificant.

I did history at Uni, and we did plenty of Jewish history, even in deepest England. (There was even an option on Jewish twentieth century history, which I took).

But what was missing was women’s history. All those battles and verbal fisticuffs. But nothing about how women kept the show on the road while the men were away playing with their toys.

How many of us do history at uni? Women? Apart from a few queens and Florence Nightingale, women didn’t do anything of note. Apparently 😉

All spamless comments are welcome.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s