This weekend my university is doing essential upgrading work and so my access to the database of newspapers I use to create this blog is disrupted. I may get in back later today, or tomorrow, or not until Monday, who knows?
In the meantime I thought I’d go ‘off piste’ (so to speak) and write a few thoughts on what has been going on in the world. We had a university open day on Friday and one of the obvious questions parents ask is ‘why should my son or daughter study history’, rather than a more traditional vocational subject (such as law, or business studies for example).
Well, I answer, history equips them for either of those careers and more. It gives them analytical skills, writing and oral presentation skills; it builds up their confidence and ability to argue and persuade others; History allows us the ability to look at different cultures and understand different backgrounds and belief systems. A historian can look beyond the simple answer and discover and understand nuance, he or she is is able to evaluate the merits of a range of different sources and can marshal them to support their arguments.
In fact I can’t think of a better subject for an 18 year-old to study for 3 or more years if we want informed, rational, creative and well rounded people running our businesses, institutions, schools, and country in the future.
Look at the world this week and at how events have completely foxed our political commentators, journalists and leaders. A long perspective (a historical perspective) on the war on terror would be useful rather than a knee jerk reaction. Historians can help explain why events in Nice when they are so inexplicably awful. Historians could give us a perspective on the struggle between secularism and religion, between democracy and military rule in Turkey. Likewise the war in Syria, the rise of Putin, the clash of civilizations, austerity and the banking crisis, and the breakup of European solidarity are all better understood from a historical perspective.
Too often politics is all about the moment and the next few months; history is about the past and taking ‘the long view’. I wonder what sort of Foreign Secretary Simon Schama would make? A better one that Boris Johnson I’ll wager. Timothy Garton-Ash’s perspective on Brexit was the best thing I read on the topic and he knows a thing or two about European tensions.
In 1914 the power vacuum caused by the decomposing Ottoman Empire (the ‘Sick man of Europe’) was one of the underlying causal factors in the slide towards the Great War. In the 1930s the rise of fascism was assisted by the collapse of world economies and the instability of democracies. The fall of the ‘great’ European overseas empires and each of the great powers’ attitudes towards the peoples they had attempted to integrate or exploit (or both) has very real consequences for the French, Belgian, British and German states of today.
So we need more historians and we need to listen to more historians because around the corner lie more ‘lone wolves’, more truck suicide bombers, more Putins, more military coups, more Marine le Pens, more Farages, and Donald Trump.