There is no “history”, only history

Liberty Leading the People by Eugene Delacroix

As one with a wide selection of history books at home it always grates when I see things like “black history” or “gay history” or “women’s history”.

These things do not exist except in the minds of those with an axe to grind: there is only history.

And history cannot be parcelled up into packages and labelled to suit the current fashionable trope. Those who do so almost always seem to have a particular angle, a grievance perhaps, a view to challenge the traditional view, something they are championing, sometimes for political purposes.

Black people in British history, gay people in British history, women in British history, of course they all exist to a greater, but often lesser extent – nevertheless they are all just part of history whether British or otherwise.

So the great spread of British history taught ought to include the slave trade, but shouldn’t neglect the fact that it was international, that the slaves were not enslaved by the British but bought from the African coastal kings and that it was finally the British that put an end to the Transatlantic slave trade.

This is all part of our history and should be taught in every school.

By the same token the women’s suffrage campaign should be taught in all schools, although with rather more focus on the success of Millicent Fawcett, the suffragists and the impact of the First World War than on the more incendiary activities of the Pankhurst led suffragettes.

These things are part of our shared history but the reality is that most people, black, white, gay, straight, feminist or whatever left no mark on history, or if they did it is so faint as to be obscured by the marks left by greater persons, and history when writ on a national scale is only going to have room for the greater persons whose decisions echoed down the years.

Your ancestors, like mine, will be lucky to make a footnote in an obscure book.

That doesn’t mean that black, gay or feminist history is not interesting and shouldn’t find a place on the bookshelf. 

I have plenty of books on the smaller incidents of history. Once you understand the broad sweep of history looking in more detail at the smaller incidents becomes very interesting.

The important thing is to recognise that these small incidents are just that and that in historical terms they are insignificant to the broad sweep of events.

And yet, some obsess about these inequalities the neglect of little known black, gay or female actors on the world stage and accusations are flung of racism, homophobia or misogyny.

The truth, however, is that most of these actors were of insufficient stature to warrant a page in a history book. Why then do we obsess about the whole issue, seeking equality of treatment and remembrance for very unequal persons?

Well, I think we have to recognise a number of very modern, one might almost say fashionable, attitudes at play, the post colonial guilt and national self loathing is a very obvious one, common amongst lots those left of centre.

Virtue signalling is another, particularly unhealthy current trend: “Look at me and the way I abhor what our ancestors did,” you hear the virtue signallers say.

It is, of course, meaningless. Ut solves nothing but just lets people feel smugly self righteous without actually having to do anything.

Finally, we encounter the notion of – often encouraged by politicians – of victimhood. This involves the parcelling up of people up into small groups, each with their own sense of grievance.

Once there, they can be taught and manipulated to oppose the system that “oppresses” them and “oppressed” their ancestors.

For this group history is manipulable to be whatever suits the current cause.

The genesis of this is in the 1980s when Labour, unable to obtain a majority in Parliament decided  that the way to do it was to encourage the fragmentation of society and then create from those fragments a whole raft of disenchanted groups who could be used to support their ambitions,

Of course, Tony Blair put a stop to that but it’s no surprise to see it back under the current labour leadership.

What pains me is to see history being used to encourage the fragmentation of society, to encourage groups to feel left out of history, that their story is not being told, and all with the aim of destroying the roots of our society, our integrity, for political purposes.

So rally round, shun historical identities, embrace the broad sweep of history, recognise that we are all British and that is what unites us.

Yes we can all have identities within that broader identity, but lets not lose sight of what we have in common instead of focusing on what divides us.


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