Forum: In Defence of History

Peter Beck urges an aggressive campaign in the defence of the study of history.

In 1980 my study of the role of history in higher education was accompanied by a cartoon showing the subject – symbolised by an 'ivory tower', with such historical personalities as Hitler and Napoleon peeping nervously from the battlements at the mob below – under threat from the outside world. Such an image seems even more appropriate today, particularly in view of the recent formation of a History at the Universities Defence Group.

The halcyon days of expansion – the concern to accommodate a rising student demand, which has always proved buoyant for history – have been replaced by the present era of fiscal constraint and preoccupation with vocationally-oriented degree courses of direct use to the creation of wealth. In such an environment, history has been characterised as one of the 'irrelevant' subjects, and appears therefore as a prime area for contraction.

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