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19th October 2022

Forgotten Histories: why is only England’s past prioritised?

A crisis of identity? The concern over the lack of history of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland taught in the UK
Forgotten Histories: why is only England’s past prioritised?
Photo: Nathan Dumlao @ Unsplash

With the popularity of shows such as The Crown, and particularly amid current events, British history is acquiring a bigger audience now than ever before.

The star-studded cast give impeccable performances episode after episode, delivering a five-star historical, albeit dramatised, education to the public. However, every time I switch the programme on, I am stunned as to how much history I am only learning about for the first time.

Many young people attribute a significant amount of their knowledge of global history to children’s shows such as Horrible Histories, which provides a glorious 20 minutes of wild and gory history in the form of comedy and song. Shows like this are diamonds amongst the plethora of fiction shown on television today. It does, however, beg the question: why aren’t we being taught this history in schools?

Of the United Kingdom’s four countries, the education curriculum seems to only focus on English history. As a Welsh student myself, I learned aspects of my own country’s history either hours-deep in a Netflix marathon, or through my own personal research. There is a significant lack of attention given to the experiences and histories of the three other countries that make up the UK which, over time, could result in the disappearance of national identity.

I had absolutely no idea this had happened. I felt like a fraud

The problem is not only within secondary education. University is different from school in that you can study subjects in intense detail. So, you would think that the history would be more widespread. Many higher education institutions offer a multitude of modules on apparent ‘British’ history, yet these topics either do not cover, or barely scrape the surface of the roles of Wales, Scotland, and Ireland during the time period studied.

The gaps in the current education curriculum are, therefore, in danger of raising generations of students to only know or care about English history, leaving them detached from the experiences of the rest of the United Kingdom.

To my dismay, it was The Crown that informed me of the tensions between England and Wales in the fifties and sixties, when Welsh resources were being exploited and repurposed for English use. Even worse, the subsequent deliberate flooding of Tryweryn Valley in 1957 that forced Welsh residents out was carried out simply to allow a reservoir to be built for Liverpool. This angered me, not only because of the incredulous disregard towards the Welsh people, but also because I had absolutely no idea this had happened. I felt like a fraud.

Welsh culture has time and time again been trampled on and the language called “useless”, “indecipherable”, and a “monkey language” by the media. It is this lack of respect that will have devastating consequences for the Welsh identity.

It is a country’s duty to educate and inform the next generation of the nation’s past – they are the future

Again, a few more episodes down the line, it was the Netflix drama again that shed light on the sheer extent of The Troubles in Ireland. Students have reverted to social media and speaking to their families to teach themselves of their country’s turbulent past, however this can be dangerous as personal experiences can potentially offer only one perspective. Reports carried out on whether The Troubles should be taught in schools highlighted how the effects of the conflict are still unmistakably evident today, making it vital that Northern Irish students have a safe space to learn about the extent of the conflict. One final year Primary Education student said they had studied history at school in Belfast from the ages 11-16 and is still “confused about the socio-political history and current affairs of Northern Ireland”.

The same goes for Scotland in that there is evidence that the embracing of Scottish history in schools is limited to ‘token’ events such as Burns’ Night and St. Andrew’s Day. With the Scottish Independence debate more apparent now than ever, it is not only Scottish pupils that should be taught in detail the events surrounding the Scottish Wars of Independence. The rest of the UK must too, in order for the historic relationship to be truly understood.

The United Kingdom has pages and pages of history to wade through, so the need to be selective and offer an array of diverse subjects in schools is most definitely understandable. However, time periods commonly taught, such as the Tudor period and the First and Second World Wars are still only delivered from an English perspective. The Acts of Union in the 1540s, in which England enveloped Wales, focuses only on the English politics, and the roles of Scotland, Ireland, and Wales during both world wars are seldom discussed.

What I find most disconcerting about this entire topic, is that in the present day, the abandonment of Scottish, Welsh, and Irish identities is teetering on the edge of happening for young people. Through no fault of their own, the lack of history taught about their home nations is bringing up generations of students who are indifferent to learning their own past.

Multiple actions have been taken to try and introduce teaching of the histories of the different countries in the UK, yet progress has been slow and minimal. It is a country’s duty to educate and inform the next generation of the nation’s past – they are the future.

However, when only one country in a union of four is given the microphone, what happens to the voices of the rest?

Aimee Butler

Aimee Butler

Third year BA History student

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