All of us are surrounded by history, whether we study it or not.
History lives in our social traditions, our holidays and ceremonies, our education, our religious beliefs and practices, our political and legal systems, even in our popular culture (movies and music frequently draw on historical events and people).
However now in the ever-changing technological world more than ever the passage of time usually shifts the answer to any historical questions.
It seems that everyone writes history, but it’s the winners who interpret it years later and mould a new retelling of what happened. However, I have always found that history in its written form never imparts a true picture of events other than confirming dates and places.
It is an incomplete picture you’ll always be reading something with some sort of bias.
This is never truer with the ongoing Brexit negotiations concerning the Irish border.
History is written according to the necessities and possibilities of current politics. But that does not mean that it is forever obscured or that any narrative is completely lost to history. Not at all.
History is in the eye of the beholder. The painful truth is, each source simply needs to be evaluated on its own merits.
Discussing the past and theorising about its meaning have never been confined or restricted to classrooms, lecture theatres or archive rooms. History is open to all who take an interest in it, regardless of their experience or credentials.
Everyone is free to consider the past and form their own conclusions. But it also has one significant disadvantage: ‘popular history’ and ‘good history’ are rarely the same things. There is a considerable gulf between historical understanding in the public domain and the history written by historians.
This is never truer when it comes to the history of the British Empire.
A Top-down history of the wealthy and powerful: kings, aristocrats, politicians, business moguls, innovators and influential thinkers.
A profitable balance of trade, it was believed, would provide the wealth necessary to maintain and expand the empire.
A worldwide system of dependencies—colonies, protectorates, and other territories—that over a span of some three centuries was brought under the sovereignty of the crown of Great Britain and the administration of the British government.
In the early seventeenth century those colonies were expanded and the systematic colonization of Ulster in Ireland got underway. While Ireland won dominion status in 1921 after a brutal guerrilla war, achieved independence in 1949, although the northern province of Ulster remained (as it is today) a part of Great Britain.
In 1997 the last significant British colony, Hong Kong, was returned to Chinese sovereignty
Very few British people have a decent understanding of the British Empire, which leads to a significant contingent who pine for a return to those days. Given the number of atrocities committed by the British Empire, these people have to be either ignorant or evil, and it’s obviously the former. Typically they re-write their history for patriotic purposes or downplay its importance to try to forget past problems so when they are alerted to a predictable bad outcome from an action they become emotional and angry as they don’t have the knowledge to see the emerging patterns.
Little remains of British rule today across the globe, and it is mostly restricted to small island territories such as Bermuda and the Falkland Islands. However, a number of countries still have Queen Elizabeth as their head of state including New Zealand, Australia and Canada – a hangover of the Empire.
Apart from the second World War (which is shown on TV documentaries almost continuously), most of the present-day English know little of how England acquired its wealth.
It oversaw around 412 million inhabitants or around 23% of the world’s population at the time and its legacy can still be felt keenly today, for better or worse.
The empire was not acquired by sports like cricket, tennis, croaky, football, polo, billiards, bare-knuckle boxing, followed by pink gins, or Pims with strawberries, it was acquired by wars, robbery, piracy, drugs, slavery, tea, cotton, sugar, and mercantile trading companies such as the East India Company, a London based trade business.
When our attitude to the past becomes locked into one way of thinking we only deal with the thing that seems most true for now, having abandoned the idea of Truth.
After all, who could support the invention of concentration camps, leading the slave trade, mass starvation of the Indians and Irish, Celtic ethnocide, or institutionalised rape of Native Americans?
Knowing what you’ve done, as a nation, in the past couple of thousand years, why you’ve done it and what the result was is extremely valuable. WHEN IT COMES NOT TO JUST THE IRISH BORDER BUT TO ANY FUTURE DEALS it’s not how the empire shaded into an unquestioning belief that Britain could – and should – rule the world.
We should approach the past with an open mind about different groups and classes, and let the evidence convince us. We should strive to keep history and remembrance as separate as possible.
The issue nowadays is to some extent the need for good filters, pushing away information after centuries of seeking it.
The dream of the West has been that we will live together in knowledge, but with the advent of seemingly leaderless, non-hierarchical movements Artifical intelligence would probably steward the change better than government, which has fixed commitments.
Because we live in a world of continual change and situational thinking every understanding is open to change, a kind of a point of view that can be undermined by a non-expert with a persuasive argument.
It seems that does not matter if the discovery precedes its invention.
The end of hierarchy and a quest for ultimate understanding seems a long way off.
After hundreds of years of British occupation, it is certain that no Irish government will ever again as it did in 1800, surrender the rights of the Irish people as a separate nation. Like Hong Kong, Northern Ireland should be repatriated.
All human comments appreciated. All like clicks chucked in the bin.