NEWS15 March 2017

‘People thought history didn’t matter anymore. Now it’s back’

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UK – Amid political upheaval, the world is rediscovering the value of history, said historian and broadcaster Dan Snow this morning at Impact 2017, the MRS’s annual conference.


After the fall of the Berlin Wall, history was deemed by some to be “finished” as countries around the world moved towards liberal market democracy, Snow said. But “it didn’t work out like that”.

“We’ve got this wave across Europe, China, the Middle East, and here in Britain, a wave of nationalism, a wave of questioning that orthodoxy which we thought was absolutely standard in the 1990s.”

“History’s back now,” says Snow. And when the political discourse becomes distorted by ignorance or misinterpretation of history, “we’re going to tell you when it’s balls”.

Snow applauded the launch of the Archive of Market and Social Research – a new initiative aiming to record the history of research in the UK over the past 70 years.

Some cultures feel closer to their history than others, Snow said. He recalled asking a taxi driver in Arab East Jerusalem why the road ahead was blocked. The driver replied that it was because of the Islamic conquest of Jerusalem in the seventh century. “In the Middle East you can talk to taxi drivers about history in a very special way, because it’s the reason they can’t cross the street, it’s the reason they can’t access their olive groves, it’s the reason they can marry that person but they can’t marry that person.”

Dan Snow in conversation with Richard Young at Impact 2017 today

This can be hard for people in Britain to understand, because we feel as though we’ve “left our history behind us”.

In fact, part of the reason for the success of Donald Trump and the UK’s Leave campaign, is that “we’ve forgotten to be grateful for the remarkable civilisation we’ve built”, said Snow. “People say the world’s gone to hell in a handcart, and I say, pull yourself together. You can have liver failure, you go to a hospital and someone – for free – takes your liver out and puts another one in. That’s historically absolutely unique and extraordinary. We’re unbelievably lucky to be living today. The idea of chucking everything away and starting again… is deranged.”