Last night, on Simon Mayo's Drivetime, it was Book Club night and the book being discussed sounded really fascinating. The Truth According To Us by Annie Barrows is set in small town America in the Depression era. I cannot comment on the book as I have not yet read it. [Although I have now added it to the ever growing list of "must read" along with many Sunday supplement clippings, the Woman & Home Reading Room recommendations, my own local book club and the research for my fledgling creative writing. No pressure...]
One discussion concerned "what is history". Apparently, the book deals with the writing of a small town's history and the struggle to make sense of past events in the light of age-old grudges and warped memories. Annie Barrows agreed very much with a comment that history is "about who writes it". Very dependent on how someone or some organisation or some nation wants to be remembered. Ms Barrows said that history is just a construct, not factual at all, "just a bunch of stories".
And I feel this resonates with many of my blog subjects in the last year. Family history is what we make of it in the present generation. My blog about The Demon Drink is an example. Posts on how disease actually affected a family would be another.
John Hurt spent the whole of his Who Do You Think You Are? episode firmly convinced that he somehow came from Irish aristocracy. He had been told so many tales over his life time that he had even convinced himself of a natural affinity with the country. It was not true. But it had coloured his family's view of themselves for generations.
Last weekend, I was reading a BBC History magazine (I know - my life is just so exciting...). One of the articles was a revisionist view of the War of the Roses. The author believes, along with many others, that Tudor propaganda aimed at cementing that family's position was responsible for substantially altering views of the pre-Tudor period. He said, though, that it was not just down to primitive propaganda. It was due to Shakespeare wanting to excite audiences, it was down to thrilling tales passed down and exaggerated between generations, and so on.
Look at Wolf Hall. Tudor history rewritten in the twenty first century. Thomas Cromwell has been a well known historical villain, of sorts, for centuries. Now, after Hilary Mantel has finished with him, we are all feeling rather sorry for him and desperate for him not to die in the (please finish it soon, Hilary!) last of the trilogy. Even though the fact of his death is one of the few certainties of his story.
Winston Churchill said "History is written by the victors". Did you ever hear of a world famous book or film about German POWs escaping? And what about Hiroshima's sufferings?
It is not just victors though. It is perception. It is feelings. In this blog, I have tried to look at how certain facts may have made participants feel and/or influenced their decisions. I agree with Annie Barrows' assessment of history to a degree. But history is no less valid for taking account of prevailing feelings, fashions, fortunes and families.