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Vitality and Anxiety

For readers of this magazine the quality of the articles presented in its pages month by month will have provided, one hopes, ample evidence for the continuing intellectual vitality of historical scholarship, and indeed ample confirmation of the value of communicating this to the widest possible audience.

What that vigour may serve actually to conceal, however, is the deepening anxiety which most teachers of history, at every level, now feel about the future status of their subject within the British educational scene.

Among my own current responsibilities is the convenership of the History at the Universities Defence Group. This was set up in 1982 under the aegis of the Historical Association, as one form of response to the pressure being exerted by the University Grants Committee for a significant measure of contraction in humanities provision. The fear which the founders then expressed about undue harm being done to the institutional basis for historical teaching and research at this level has since been accentuated in at least two ways.

Firstly, even after three years spent in accommodating such cuts, we are clearly far from the end of that dismal process. Through its new Green Paper (The Development of Higher Education into the 1990s, published in May) the government itself is now urging the UGC to make a further diversion of the diminishing overall resources away from 'non-vocational' subjects. Since the overall tone of the document merely echoes the values of Gradgrind, we have to conclude that history is, like most of the humanities, a discipline thus downgraded as a simple burden upon enterprise.

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