History at the click of a mouse

6th November 2009 at 00:00

I always loved history at school. I must have some sort of nostalgia gene, for there is hardly any historical period I don't find fascinating in one way or another.

Having had my primary education in the 1960s at Edinburgh's Parsons Green Primary (thank you Miss Redding, Miss Scott, Miss Veitch and Mrs Park), projects were the thing and there was nothing I liked better than a project on, say, the Romans.

In primary, we managed to cram so many different periods of history in that, by secondary, I was wondering why we were doing some all over again. Scottish history fared particularly well at Parsy: Bannockburn was a natch, and no self-respecting school could ignore the story of Robert the Bruce, his perseverance, that spider and his ultimate triumph.

I don't know why, but I always liked the Black Douglas more, never thinking I would end up sitting next to his direct descendant in the Scottish Parliament, the pugilist politician James Douglas-Hamilton. Nor did I realise I had an ancestor, Sir John de Menteith, who betrayed Wallace to his liege Edward I, redeeming himself by fighting for Bruce at Bannockburn and signing the Declaration of Arbroath.

Learning and Teaching Scotland has now done the nation a great service by launching its "Scotland's History" website. Wow! I would have loved access to all that glorious information.

In the political world, of course, there are many Unionists - either latent or heart-on-their-sleeve types - who fear the teaching of Scottish history in our schools. I've never been one of them. Every child raised in Scotland deserves to know the history of our people, be they our settlers, conquerors, immigrants or emigrants, inventors, soldiers, workers or aristocrats - once read about, it is for them to form their own interpretation.

We should all welcome the debunking of national myths, whatever their origin. After gravity, the law of unintended consequences is probably my favourite law. Politicians often find that their legislation results in the opposite outcome, or some tangential social behaviour that they never promised or anticipated. Nationalists call for Scottish history as some act of faith, but revealing the truth is often troublesome to politicians.

Scotch myths abound. In reading of the life of the late Sir Ludovic Kennedy, I noticed how he had been taken to Culloden by his mother when holidaying in Nairn, and she told him about the fight on that tragic boggy battlefield between the Scots and the English. He asked her: "Which are we?"; she told him: "Scots, of course."

The rest of his life was indeed history and, although a Liberal for most of the time, his nationalism coursed through his veins and inspired him to campaign for Home Rule.

This does make one wonder just how many of our people have been influenced by the Culloden myth that it was the Scots versus the English. The LTS website does not pull its punches, reminding us: "In fact, far more Scots supported and fought on the Hanoverian side than on the Jacobite." Are unionists sitting more comfortably now?

There is nothing to be feared, and everything to be gained, from reading about Scotland's history - not least in quickly identifying how our nation was crafted from not one indigenous tribe or race but from waves of different peoples coming to our land and building their lives here.

As Michael Fry's book, Scottish Empire, showed, we Scots are up to our necks in blood, forging nations, introducing football to Brazil and Spain and settling lands just as we were once settled. Home or away, it is an intriguing story that deserves to be taught.

Brian Monteith lives in the past but might be found looking up www.ltscotland.org.ukscotlandshistory.

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