Was L.P Hartley right in those famous words he wrote about history – ‘the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there’? Or was William Faulkner right – ‘the past isn’t dead and gone, it isn’t even past’? These and other questions arise in the current controversy about whether Mary Seacole should feature in England’s national curriculum, and whether she should be commemorated in statues and plaques. ‘The issue is about much more,’ Gus John has written, ‘than whether or not all children get to learn about Mary Seacole and her historical feat of travelling in the 19th century from Jamaica to the Crimea … It is about how the nation’s children, whites in particular, are structurally and systematically denied the opportunity to understand the past.’
Debates need to take place not only about the nature of history and about Britain’s story but also about who should be involved, and how, in considerations of the curriculum in schools –
Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony, it was reported a few days ago, was the most popular show on iPlayer in 2012 – there were about 3.3 million requests. For a montage of media comments about the ceremony, see ‘They made us nicer people’ at http://www.insted.co.uk/nicer-people.pdf. Mary Seacole makes us nicer people, too.