A warning note about history

"History is subjective - it depends on who is looking at it."

"'Truth?' Don't talk to me about 'truth'" You have your view, I have mine!"

"Follow the money, look at events, find out who aquired money, land or resources."

History depends on written records - which is why most of the history we learn at school is about those who could afford to keep written records - usually those with wealth and power. Many historical records are legal ones, often relating to the transfer and use of land.

The history of most of us, "The Common Man", is much more difficult to put together. Let's be honest, Trusley is a rural backwater now and has been so for thousands of years. It is highly unlikely that we are going to come across written records of everyday life in Trusley any earlier then the 19th century - if then.

What we can do is put the history of Trusley into a national context - we can look at the key events taking place in the country and assess the impact on our parish.

What is "history"?

History is about rent

History is about acquiring land and resources (through invasions, wars, battles, violence, murder, theft, forced marriages or the purchase of stolen goods) and then extracting rent (under the threat of law) from those who do the work while you sit back in your castle, manor, hall, palace, country pile, stately home, or "big house" and live a life of idle leisure - while doing everything possible to avoid contributing to the common good through taxation.

That was said by Winston Churchill when he argued in favour of a Land Value Tax!

This applies to both rural and urban areas. The wealth of the Duke of Westminster ("Grosvenor Group") and the Earl Cadogan ("Cadogan Estates"), over £17 billion between them, is made up almost entirely of land, much of it in central London (Westminster and Chelsea) - yet they pay no tax on the value of that land.

When asked for advice on how to become rich, the Duke of Westminster said: "have ancestors who fought at the battle of Hastings!"

Throughout history the common man has always been forced to fight battles on behalf of his Lord - swapping one landlord for another depending on the outcome.

The wealthier you become, the greater the effort you make to avoid your social responsibilities.

A conversation between "The Common Man" (TCM) and the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth:

  • TCM: "How far back does your family's ownership of land go?"
  • Duke (proudly): "At least as far as 1066."
  • TCM: "So, your family acquired land through battle?"
  • Duke: "Yes."
  • TCM: "Take your coat off and I'll fight you for it."

The Cavendish family has often done the dirty work of the monarch, including the violent crushing of The Great Rebellion of 1381.

History is ...

  • rarely about facts,
  • always about questions,
  • never neutral,
  • highly selective,
  • often about someone using the past to support their view of the present.

History is about interpretation and, in some cases, informed guesses.

Henry Ford, as ignorant about history as Donald Trump, said "history is more or less bunk."

This was from a man who was overtly anti-semitic, who, in 1938, received the Grand Cross of the German Eagle from Nazi Germany, who profited from supplying trucks and other equipment to Nazi Germany while Britain was at war and who, in 1940, built a factory in Nazi occupied France to assemble aircraft engines for the Luftwaffe.

Ford was not alone - the USA continued to supply machinery, engines, vehicles and other goods to Nazi Germany until the attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941 - over two years after Britain went to war in 1939. Some American banks (Chase, Rockefeller, Morgan, etc.) and companies (Standard Oil (ESSO), IBM, APS, Kodak, Coca Cola, ITT, Ford, etc.) continued to sell services and goods to Germany throughout the war. IBM's punch cards and machines were used to separate Jews and Aryans in preparation for the Holocaust.

IBM punch card used by Nazi Germany's Racial Office

We must ask:

  • Why did something happen?
  • How many different viewpoints are there?
  • Who benefitted and who lost out?
  • What lessons were learned?

History is never neutral - it always depends on the point of view of the person who is describing it. For example, is history simply a list of kings & queens and battles & wars? Is it the story of those in power ("the ruling class") or does it include the story of those who work and provide the taxes to keep them in power?

Should we learn lists of events or should we try to understand why those events took place? How can we understand the past, or even the present, without imposing our own prejudices on what we are looking at? History is as much about the person writing about it as it is about the events themselves.

History is frequently the story of the victors - those who came out on top in any dispute - whether it is an invasion, a conquest, a war, a rebellion or the crushing of a rebellion. Should we simply take the word of the winners, or should we try to understand all sides of an event?

Before the invention of the printing press all historical records required manual copying. Copies were often changed - by accident or on purpose to reflect the point of view of the person making the copy.

We need a sceptical but open mind

To avoid the wool being pulled over our eyes we must always ask:

  • What evidence do we have?
  • Who wrote it?
  • What was the motive for writing it?
  • How fair and unbiased is it?
  • How long was it written after the events it describes?
  • How comprehensive is it?
  • Is there supporting evidence?

In many cases history hangs by a single thread of documentary evidence - like the "The Ecclesiastical History of the English People" written by the Venerable Bede in the 8th century. Is it fair to base our understanding of a complete era on the written words of a monk in a remote community in Northumberland when we have no alternative sources to refer to?