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History in a Broader Context



     David Pike, my former assistant at Bolivar House, has an experience as broad as mine. Born in England, he studied in Canada and Mexico before coming to Stanford. Then he went on to France, where he is now a Distinguished Professor at the American University of Paris. He comments:
     The American War does indeed look, the more you study it, like the continuation of the English Civil War. The reason why neither qualifies as a revolution is that both sides, in each, were fighting for their interpretation of the status quo. When a victorious Parliament in 1688-89 imposed its terms on the monarchy, it seemed as if everything was now resolved. What it did not foresee were the superpatriots in Parliament in 1760 siding with the King to undermine Parliament itself. If the American patriots had lost this war, the parliamentary tradition in Britain would have lost too, and England would have finally had a bloody revolution, the one it never had, and one that would have matched any of France's four. What saved England were the speeches of the opposition, of Pitt and Burke, that are as eloquent as any in the language. It is interesting to consider how this came about. It came about because much of the education in the 18th century, on both sides of the Atlantic, was the study of the great orators of Athens and Rome, and in times of crisis a great speech would carry everything before it, reminding us that the greatness of a nation does not consist of winning in the struggle but of prevailing in the right. It is a pity that the great antiwar movement in England led by Pitt (certainly no pacifist; ask the French) is so little studied. It was Pitt the monarchist who cried in 1778: "The influence of the King in Parliament has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished." And indeed, in 1780, it was, and peace became possible.
     In Ronald Hilton's comment to Miles Seeley's message, reference is made to getting hold of Cuban history textbooks. Does the academic world know how important it is for great libraries to collect the history textbooks of the whole world? WAIS Fellow Marc Ferro has published a work on the influence that history text books have had on the formation of public opinion, but this is only the very beginning of what should be an entirely new branch of history. I am particularly interested in the evolution, or non-evolution, to be seen in the writing of Japanese history text books since 1945 regarding the history of Japan from 1931.


     My comment: There is one thing missing in David's comment: Cherchez la femme. It was George III's mother who urged him as a boy: "George, be a king!" However, let's not be too hard on poor old George. Farmer George was popular, and the movie about his madness (it had different titles) reduced him to a caricature.
     As for textbooks, this is extremely important. Would some historian tell us what happened to the international committees set up to reach an accord? In 1944 I attended a conference of American ministers of education in Panama to agree on a common history textbook for schools in the Americas. It was an expensive farce. I have persuaded the Stanford School of Education Library to get the fiches with the course catalogs of American universities, an important source of information about American cultural history, which the Library of Congress overlooked. The same library discarded a collection of Nazi history textbooks to save space. No comment. David is quite right: this should be an entirely new branch of history. I will try to get the Stanford history department and School of Education interested. WAIS could be instrumental in building up a collection of history textbooks, unless one exists already. Does it?

Ronald Hilton - 2/8/00


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