Tuesday, 10 February 2009

coherence, history and over-simplification

Do read this from last week's Spectator. It's an exceptionally earnest but not desperately convincing little piece by someone described as "the historian Lisa Hilton", perhaps because we might mistake her for another Lisa Hilton who doesn't write about history, or maybe because the description of her as an historian will add weight to her case.

The Historian laments the government's failure to give children "any coherent understanding of the forces which made the world they inhabit". The thrust of the article is that government is dumbing down the teaching of history. I would reply to The Historian that, on the contrary, overt willingness to describe "the forces which made the world they inhabit" as amenable to "coherent understanding" is engaging in the classic over-simplification exercise that has perenially been the preserve of school history teaching. I'd like to see schools teaching children to deal with incoherence: it would be at once more salutary for everyday life and more historically fastidious. But maybe The Historian Lisa Hilton also believes that Whigs were onto something. I feel we should be told. Oh dear, oh dear.

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