You’ve probably seen the joke that most American students think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. You shouldn’t laugh too hard because English students are not much better.
I’ve been reading The Angry Island by AA Gill and in it he makes an interesting observation that history is one of the defining attributes of Britishness. I’d go further and say that history is a pivotal part of the British and particularly English brand. I mean, it’s probably the main reason why most visitors come to London. It’s certainly not for the quality of our food, although I’d argue that our food makes New York look like the gastronomic toilet it is. They don’t come for the cheap shopping, that’s New York’s function and they don’t come for the romance, that’s covered by Paris. What London has is history, in spades, in large stone clods. I work near Buckingham Palace a building 54 years younger than the White House but one that is perceived to have been sitting near Green Park since Henry VIII was a lad.
We Brits do history fabulously. We commemorate battles, executions, wars and occupations better than anyone else in the world. We are history snobs impervious to the fact that every nation, country or people have an equally long history. The difference is that we’re masters in selling it. As A.A.Gill points out, the even more remarkable thing is that most of our history didn’t happen in Blighty it is the wars, adventures and imperialism we imposed on others. The thing is we’re just so good at merchandising. Our best salesmen were Shakespeare, Bagehot, Gibbons, Tennyson, Kipling, Scott and hundreds of others. Together they mythologized our history and gave us ownership.
So what of our new brand champions – the youth of today who should be absorbing our brand essence and learning how to make a living out of it in the future. The truth is that successive politically correct, small minded, trendy intellectual idiots have allowed the teaching of history to die. So now I move into Colonel Blimp mode (1930’s cartoon character for those unaware).
Get ready for a quiz. Can you answer the following questions? This is from a report in the Daily Telegraph yesterday
1 – Who was the general in charge of the British Army at the battle of Waterloo?
2 – Who was the reigning monarch when the Spanish Armada attacked Britain?
3 – What was Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s profession?
4 – Name one Prime Minister of Britain in the 19th century?
5 – In what country was the Boer War of 1899-1902 fought?
So here are the shocking results. Only in five first year students got more than one in five questions correct. Only one in ten could name a 19th century Prime Minister. This depresses me more than I can say. We English are rubbish at sport, are appalling tourists, average scientists, tentative film makers, wannabe musicians but we have given two great things to the world. The English language by far our richest asset, and our history. If our language is our global gift, history is our heritage. Please let’s not lose it.
Answers (I really hope you don’t need these)
1 – Duke of Wellington
2 – Queen Elizabeth I
3 – An engineer
4 – There were 20 – including Disraeli, Gladstone and Peel
5 – South Africa
1/5= Illegal immigrant or student
3/5= Resident alien