Letter: History lessons

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE DECISION of one examining board to "drop the paper on English history from 300 to 1500AD" and of another to "phase out history before the Norman Conquest" ("Black Death, burnt cakes and pagans", 25 July) will have long- term implications. One image of the Dark Ages is that of barbarism, decay and paganism, but it is also the period from which many of the myths of the English derive - myths of freedom, democracy and individualism. In the absence of an informed understanding of the period, there is a danger that other elements of the English myth - the belief in the racial purity and cultural superiority of the Anglo-Saxon peoples - will emerge from their Victorian lair to pervert the imaginations and identity of the next generation.

The Middle Ages was also the period of Catholic England. The old stereotypes of a decadent, corrupt and discredited medieval Catholicism being pushed aside by a rational and pure Protestantism have been challenged by a recent generation of scholars. Failure to communicate the heterogeneity of the Middle Ages - when the Romano-British, the Celt, the Viking and the Catholic (not just the Anglo-Saxon) played vital roles in the construction of England and the English - means that the search for identity by those who will form the communities of England in the 21st century will lead only to those myths which propped up Empire - hardly an appropriate grounding for England's new place within Europe and the United Kingdom.


Department of Archaeology and Prehistory, University of Sheffield