Early last month, I joined a group of Historians and their guests to spend a Saturday morning hearing about the Vikings. They were centre-stage because it’s the millennium of Cnut’s conquest of England. (To put this in context, the next conquest was by the Normans in 1066.)
Before we started, the jury was a bit out on how interesting people would find the topic. Frankly, it seemed a tad unfashionable and it might not be something people would know anything about and could identify with.
Any worry was wasted. The only complaint was that there wasn’t long enough for all the questions people wanted to ask.
Afterwards, some of us speculated why there was so much enthusiasm for the topic, apart from three excellent speakers who brought the Viking world to life. It took a couple of the younger people to make a point that escaped the rest of us.
Apparently, older history (if you’ll excuse the phrase) has a particular appeal to a generation raised on twentieth century history. The causes of the First World War, the origins of the Second World War, the rise of the United States, the Cold War and the like all have their place, but there are History students at universities who’ve studied little before the twentieth century. The opportunity to hear about Vikings was manna from heaven.
As someone who studied up to the 1850s and considers anything after that date as politics, this was a revelation. I hadn’t realised that what I think of as “proper” history is so thin on the teaching syllabus.
Someone also pointed out that television programmes such as Game of Thrones help to provide connections between contemporary culture and historical periods. I’d be interested to see a film or TV series that makes the Angevin kings cool, Oliver Cromwell a hero or Charles James Fox aspirational. It’s time for proper history to fight back.