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Coming to Terms with the Past

Peter Furtado introduces the series.

'Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it'. We pay lip service to this aphorism of the George Santayana – but we don’t always acknowledge that the apparently simple act of remembering the past is far easier for some than for others. And it’s not just a question of restructuring the school curriculum to allow for mixed abilities.

Each November 11th, we hold Remembrance Day to honour those who suffered in the wars fought by Britain in living memory; and in January Holocaust Memorial Day now allows us to recall the agonies of people caught up in the worst crimes in history. Even so, for those of us lucky enough to live in the relative comfort of a society where continuity has long been the watchword, the study of history can frequently be a matter of detachment, amusement and, in recent years, entertainment. I am certain that every reader of History Today will be passionate about chosen aspects of the past, and about the importance of remembering the past as a whole; but I suspect that fewer of us experience the pain of the historical past so deeply that we fear the very act of remembering, or feel that standard histories have so utterly denied our own life experience that the business of remembering the past is a desperate, even existential, process. Not so in other parts of the world – or even in some parts of the British Isles.

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