Are we not all historians?

William Pooley in his blog joins in on an interesting debate; when it comes to history are we Asking the Wrong Questions? Asking a Western audience to name their top ten (or three or five) historic figures often results in a list of white men, with a couple of infamous women thrown in. When @HistoryExtra asked this question the results included those traditionally (in elitist terms) perceived as the “good and the great (or infamous)”:

  • Queen Victoria
  • Alfred the Great
  • Richard III
  • Adolf Hitler

Of course these people made a huge impact on the world: if we are to believe the historians who tell their stories. But, we make an impact too: you and me. Ever made a sacrifice for someone else? Ever asked for a favour? Ever helped somebody for no other reason than you could? Did you not impact on that person’s life? Did they not impact on yours?

Back in June Rebecca Rideal pulled out of the Chalke Valley History Festival. She was protesting that out of 148 speakers only 32 were women and only one a person of colour. If you do the maths that means that of 148 speakers 116 were white men. 116?

I’m a historian, but neither an academic, nor a published biographer (yet), rather I’m a person who lives and interprets history. An archivist by trade I have met people who thought they were “too stupid” to attend a history talk, that they would feel out of place and could never “research” anything for themselves. I have also met people self-publishing histories of their family, their house, or their village. Their stories are full of passion for the subject, the place and the people, because the people are their ancestors, the place is where they live, and the subject is close to their hearts. Understanding history helps humans to understand themselves and each other.

So, when you’re watching that famous historian’s TV show or podcast, or reading their books, remember that you are a historian too. You own interpretation is as valid as anyone else’s. Talk to your friends and relatives, and people who are neither, get to know your community’s heritage, maybe even pop into your local archive. Did you know that every county has at least one archive which is full of stories? Nottinghamshire’s has over four million documents covering 800+ years. And it will not cost you a penny to look at them.

History should be, to borrow from Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address, by the people and for the people. Are we not all people? Are we not all historians?

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