A: I’m fascinated by history these days after travelling so much, but, I mean, I hated it at school. I couldn’t wait to drop it.
A: I suppose it was the way it was dished up – you know, Mr Atkins with his silly stories about Norris and …
C: I … I liked them!
A: Well, they were entertaining, sure … “Norris is an Aztec warrior1, he spots a mystery vessel2 coming over the horizon, … ‘chief, chief, I see a vision come from the sea’ … I mean, I remember thinking, ‘shut up’. What’s this got to do with me?
B: Yeah I guess you didn’t feel it was relevant to you in Britain in the 1990s.
A: Exactly. So what was it about history for both of you?
C: Well interestingly, it wasn’t school, at all. It was those … you know those Airfix3 models we had when we were kids – you know, the planes – and when you got an Airfix model, like, you know, a Spitfire or a Hurricane4, or whatever … in those instructions there was this sort of … this paragraph, this history of the plane – not just all about how to put the model together – so that was it, I just started finding out about them then.
A: So … so that’s why you ended up doing a PhD5 on the Second World War!
C: Right, right, yeah.
A: What about you Sam? Were you the same as Lee? What was your history degree about?
B: Well, I did medieval mainly, ‘cos I preferred it to the more modern stuff.
A: Oh, OK. So … so, when did you decide that you liked history and wanted to do it at uni?
B: Um … probably from junior school, yeah, yeah. We did a school play called The Vackees6 – um, about evacuees6 in the war. And actually I disagree with you about those stories about Norris ‘cos they were just like that school play – you … you were, like, supposed to be that child being moved out of London into the countryside and imagine what it was like.
A: Yeah, yeah, I get that when it’s a play, more than just listening to a teacher prattling on. So, um, medieval, what … what’s that then? Is that like, er, Hanseatic trading league7 and all that?
B: Well, yeah, so it’s about how people emerge from their own little world, started communicating with the next valley – that kind of stuff.
A: And why was that more interesting for you than the war?
B: I … all that stuff about military tactics left me a bit cold. Um … I prefer the sociological stuff that explains everyday life, you know? The nuances of community, the hierarchy of tradesmen, er, how the class system evolves, why religion is so powerful …
A: Right, right … tell me, tell me: what’s your view of all this airbrushing of history that’s going on? You know, the … like when they dumped that statue of the slave trader8 in Bristol harbour the other month. Is it justified?
B: Definitely not.
C: Well, yes and no.
B: But the point of learning about history is you’re supposed to learn from it. If you’re offended by it, it’s good, because you’ll make sure history doesn’t repeat itself.
C: Well, I mean, yeah, that’s true, but … but actually Dave, you’ve put your finger on why I love studying history. It was what happened next to that statue – that’s the important bit. You know, they dragged it out of the harbour again, they put it in a museum, they had the debates, they had the demonstrations. Um … so now, this statue being erected in the first place is just one chapter from a darker period of history, and the toppling of it, the putting it in the museum – this conversation we’re having now – this is from the next chapter of a … of a more enlightened time. We o-… we only think a certain way now because of what people thought before.