History is a weird subject. You do it at school and you sort of go through a mishmash of the Egyptians and the Romans and the medieval times, until you skip forward to the Tudors and then the Victorians and finally World War 2 – unless maybe you skip back again and do World War 1. By then, you’re 13 or 14 and kind of sick of having to write about biased sources, so you probably drop it.
At least, you think you drop it. But you see statues around you and blue plaques, and when you scroll through Facebook that one guy who never quite got over secondary school is yelling about how we can’t take down statues because that destroys history and when you open Twitter for a break some journalist is yelling at some historian over something to do with the Blitz. Who the fuck cares?!
Turns out, a lot of people do. History is quite literally everywhere around us, from old shows to old clothes to old photos to documentaries to a world that is far too stuck in the past for its own good! And how we think about the past tells us a lot about how we think about the present: people make appeals to what they think our past is. The past, and the stories we tell about it, give us stories about where we come from that we believe on a pretty deep level. The fancy word for this is “historiography” – writing about history.
The problem? Most of those stories are…well…just stories. Not even necessarily particularly good ones, kind of like when you go and watch a movie that promised to be THE BEST THING EVER and it turns out that the plot kind of falls apart if you think about it for more than 0.5 seconds. And these are supposed to be the things we believe about ourselves?! Come on. What utter bullshit.
Mostly, people spend thousands of pounds going to university to learn about this. It shouldn’t have to be this way. The ideas behind historiography are not that hard or that rare that they need to be locked away.
This series is going to be about bad history and specifically bad historiography – what makes stories fall apart? Why? And who gets to tell them?
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