Beware of history as state propaganda

To what extent should the teaching of history act as an aid to reconciliation? It’s a theme with plenty of local echoes. The contemporary European historian Timothy Garton Ash has written this important piece in the Guardian announcing a campaign against official state sponsorship of positive thinking about the past. It starts with good motives – Never Again the Holocaust continues with imprisoning Holocaust deniers and ends us with contrary laws in different countries about the same event.

“In Switzerland, you get prosecuted for saying that the terrible thing that happened to the Armenians in the last years of the Ottoman empire was not a genocide. In Turkey, you get prosecuted for saying it was. What is state-ordained truth in the Alps is state-ordained falsehood in Anatolia.”

There’s nothing terrible about history as celebration or keeping the old frameworks of history so long as we examine them openly and critically. What this current British debate lacks is the rigorous approach to Empire now current in research – not a hate thing, just unblinking coverage of the story. The effort to assimilate and understand continues in every generation. In Ireland, understanding requires both Irish and British contexts.

We’ve had more than one http://www.etext.org/Politics/INAC/irish.revisionismset of revisionisms but none of it is laid down by any State thank God. No danger of State sponsored PC coming back in any part of Ireland is there?
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Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

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