Historical Lessons

1 12 2008

These are the closing words of the fifteen chapter series “A History of Britain“, written and presented by historian Simon Schama, coproduced by BBC and The History Channel:

History ought never to be confused with nostalgia. It is written not to revere the dead, but to inspire the living. It is our cultural bloodstream, the secret of who we are, and it tells us to let go of the past, even as we honor it, to lament what ought to be lamented and to celebrate what should be celebrated. And, if in the end, that history turns out to reveal itself as a patriot, well then I think that neither Churchill nor Orwell would have minded that very much, and as a matter of fact, neither do I.

Here you can watch the very end of the series, in which you can also enjoy the great score by British saxophonist and composer John Harle:

A History of Britain – Part 15 of 15 – The Two Winstons 6/6

The reason why I recommend this series to you, even if you do not feel particularly attracted to the topic of British history, is that I think its chapters are full of profound lessons that are as relevant today as they were in centuries past, and as relevant in Britain as they are anywhere else in the world. In addition to describing the usual power struggles between nations and within the aristocracy, the series also portrays very vividly the perpetual conflict between the lowest classes and their oppressors, the constant battle between those demanding greater freedom and social justice and those who insist on taking them away. All of it is presented very compellingly by showing footage of all the relevant places as well as by an abundant use of historical artefacts and documents.

Let me finish by quoting what I consider to be deeply moving words, also from the above video:

When we think of 1984, most of us think of the tyranny of drabness and mass obedience, ruled by Big Brother: an upside down world of doublespeak, where war is peace and lies are truth. But Orwell’s last masterpiece is most powerful and most lyrical when it describes Winston’s resistance to dictatorship: a guerrilla action fought not with guns and barricades, but by, literally, taking liberties, reclaiming the ordinary pleasures of humanity: a walk in the country, an act of love, the singing of an old nursery rhyme. Winston Smith did all these forbidden things prompted by a dim memory of a time when they were all absolutely normal. The last refuge of freedom against Big Brother is memory. The greatest horror of 1984 is the dictator’s attempt to wipe out history.” 

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