Creation of the Council of Europe on May 5th, 1949
Robert Schuman, signe les Statuts de la CrŽation du Conseil de l'Europe

History week: The UK experience

Popular culture in the United Kingdom is increasingly influenced by themes of history and remembrance.

At the cinema and on television, war epics and films like Schindlers List and Saving Private Ryan are ratings gold.

Merchant Ivory period dramas and the recent Downton Abbbey are as critically acclaimed as they are commercially successful.

Britons are familiar with the central ideas behind Francis Fukuyama ‘End of History’ essay and Samuel P. Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilisations.’

Documentaries by the academics Niall Ferguson, Simon Schama and David Starkey have helped these historians to become media celebrities and are credited with taking history into the mainstream.

Long and intellectually-heavy lectures from the Oxford and the Open universities, on anything from the Reformation to the Russian revolution, are available to download from Itunes.

And, of course, the marriage of Britain’s Prince William is an opportunity for this generation to revel in the pomp and pageantry of a royal British fairy tale.

Yet, away from the cultural arena, British history remains the stuff of controversy.

Politicians and traditionalists fret that students know little beyond “Hitler and the Henrys.’

The multi-cultural nature of modern Britain has tugged historians into allowing potentially hazardous classroom discussions on empire, slavery and colonialism.

History is both the heat and the light in discussions on the war in Afghanistan, terrorism, globalization, energy security, inter-religious conflict, immigration, cultural norms and what it means to be British and European in the 21st Century.

HumanrightsEurope discussed these issues and more with Dr Katharine Burn, a historian at the University of London and spokeswoman for the United Kingdom’s Historical Association.

The discussion centred on the controversies stirred by history teaching’s methods and content and whether history’s popularity in the United Kingdom is a harmless surge in nostalgia or evidence of a narrowing in British openness towards others.

More Information

Link: The Historical Association

News: The Guardian – Niall Ferguson says “Rid our schools of junk history”

News: The Guardian – National curriculum review puts emphasis on facts

Speech: Thorbjørn Jagland – ”The great European project cannot go forward without the Council of Europe

CoE History WeekDay One

Podcast: Gary Younge – ‘Living Together In the 21st Century’

Audio Interview: Dr Katharine Burn – University of London & Historical Association Spokesperson

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