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History Today

I was at a talk recently that reminded me that history is more about what is happening today than what happened yesterday. History books written in the 1960s and 70s often reveal more about the issues and attitudes to the fore in those days than they do about the periods they supposedly covered. The link between the talk and the books is that in the course of the talk facts that put events into a wider context and damaged the author's argument were simply ignored. History is about interpreting past events, not simply recounting them. Almost every historian or writer who wants published needs to come up with something new to say. That's a lot of pressure. And it makes for a lot of very bad history. Historical writing should also, if possible, have some lesson for the present day. In the 60s and 70s, demolishing the reputations of leading figures was a good way to get published. Books on the British Empire in those days were often as biased and inaccurate in their own way as a 1901  school picture book on the same subject. History is very nuanced; never mind the problems of finding and correctly, not to say fairly, interpreting the evidence. Nuance is a hard sell. Easier to claim that the British Army was no match in battle for the German SS and it was simply an abundance of artillery that defeated the Nazis on the western front in 1944. That way the stream of Walter Mitty's who want to play at being SS men is constantly refreshed. Sadly, not all stop there. 


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