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StephenT [userpic]

(Meme) Your country's history

8th August 2010 (14:39)
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There's a thread on this over on the RPGnet forum, and I thought it would be fun to give it a go here.

Describe your country's history - not as it really was, but as the average person in your country remembers it. What are the major events that everybody knows about? What's taught in schools? What do your politicians and media talk about when they want to boast about how great your country is? Or are there embarrassing episodes in your nation's past that everybody knows about but nobody likes to mention?

We're not looking for a balanced, measured or accurate view here. Broad generalisations and sweeping stereotypes are welcome. Consider this a disclaimer. ;-) Also, people with actual academic qualifications in history may need to take a stiff drink or three before reading this post...

So, under the cut, the Condensed History of England as Most People Here Remember It.


I did my best to avoid just quoting '1066 And All That' verbatim...

  • The Ancient Britons paint themselves blue and ride around in chariots with swords tied to the wheels.
  • The Romans invade. First they massacre everyone, but then they build cities and roads - lots of roads - and villas and baths and stuff. And a big wall to keep the Scots out of England.
  • The Romans leave. The Anglo-Saxons invade. More massacring. King Arthur fights them, assuming he existed, but he dies and the Saxons win and become English.
  • The Vikings invade. Again with the massacring. King Alfred burns some cakes, then defeats the Vikings.
  • The Normans invade. Yep, it's massacre time again. King Harold gets shot with an arrow in his eye, and the Normans make a tapestry about it.
  • The Middle Ages. Knights and castles, and grubby peasants and Robin Hood and the Black Death. We invade France and now it's our turn to do some massacring for a change (see: Crecy, Poitiers, Agincourt. Nobody has ever heard of Castillon.)
  • Henry the Eighth has six wives. Or was it Henry the Sixth who had eight wives? People get burned at the stake for being the wrong flavour of Christian.
  • Queen Elizabeth is a virgin who has the heart and stomach of a king. Sir Francis Drake beats the Spanish Armada during a game of bowls. Shakespeare writes some plays.
  • The Stuarts take over and England is now ruled by the Scots. Guy Fawkes tries to blow up Parliament but, sadly, fails.
  • The Civil War. Cromwell's Roundheads beat King Charles's cavaliers, and Charles gets his head cut off. Cromwell then goes and makes himself unpopular in Ireland, causing problems ever since.
  • England and Scotland become Britain. Nobody outside the UK ever seems to get the names right. It's a conspiracy.
  • Britain starts an empire. Lots of wars with France. We get involved with slavery (boo!).
  • The Americans decide to leave the Empire. Good riddance. We go off and conquer India and Australia to make up for it.
  • Napoleon tries to conquer the world, but we defeat him. Britannia now, officially, Rules.
  • We suddenly realise slavery is a bad thing after all, and abolish it (yay!).
  • Industrial revolution. Railways and steam engines and dark satanic mills. Little boys being forced up chimneys. Poor matchgirls freezing to death in the snow. Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens and Sherlock Holmes.
  • The First World War. Mud and blood and poison gas, and millions of people killed in futile attacks against the enemy trenches.
  • The Great Depression. Hunger marches and strikes and Neville Chamberlain appeasing Hitler (boo!).
  • The Second World War. Britain's Last Great Moment of Heroism. We save the world (some other countries may have helped at the end) but ruin ourselves doing it. Dunkirk, Battle of Britain, Churchill's speeches, the Desert War, D-Day, and the Dambusters.
  • Britain is now too poor to be a world power. We comfort ourselves by setting up the Welfare State and the NHS instead. All our former colonies leave the empire, although many of their inhabitants decide to come and live here instead.
  • The Swinging Sixties: The Beatles and Carnaby Street. Doctor Who is first broadcast.
  • The Depressing Seventies and Even More Depressing Eighties: the Three Day Week and Winter of Discontent. Punk Rock. Margaret Thatcher. The Falklands War, the Miners' Strike and the Poll Tax Riots.

...and after that, it becomes Current Affairs rather than history.

Or, if you prefer the tl;dr version as taught in modern British schools:

1. Romans and Vikings and knights and Tudors and Stuarts and stuff.
2. Slavery.
3. Hitler.
(for 2. and 3, first we were in favour of them, then realised they were Bad and opposed them.)

 

So, over to you. How is history remembered in your country?
 


Comments

Posted by: gillo (gillo)
Posted at: 8th August 2010 15:18 (UTC)
What have you done with your mother?

I did my best to avoid just quoting '1066 And All That' verbatim...


It is a seminal book and one of my greatest influences.

The Middle Ages had monks too. And three fields.

Bloody Mary is not just a drink.

Puritans smashed up lots of pretty churches.

The two World Wars, in which we fought doggedly and the yanks came in at the last minute, late to the party, but try to take all the credit for it.

Schools also teach castles and the Holocaust. And, usually, Stalin.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 8th August 2010 17:52 (UTC)

I first read '1066' as a child, and came back to it every few years to discover I understood a few more of the references and jokes (that I'd previously thought were just random silliness) each time...
:-)

Posted by: candleanfeather (candleanfeather)
Posted at: 8th August 2010 16:11 (UTC)

Can I have the bottle please?

I imagine the short version of French history could be something like that:

First there were dinosaurs

Then cavemen and the paintings of Lascaux

Then Asterix Obelix and Jules César. And nobody knows where Alesia is. (Ask Abraracourcix)

Then Clovis or another version "Clovis who"?

Then Charlemagne

In the middleages they all were barbarians, with poor peasants under the steel rules of wicked lords and knights and incompetent kings. Or the kings were very cruel like Philippe le Bel who burned the Templiers. There were also wars, la Guerre de Cent Ans and Jeanne d'Arc who beat the English (Ah!). And what's Castillon?

Then there was the Renaissance and les châteaux de la Loire, the religious war between Protestants and Catholic. But Henri IV put an end to it and was eager for each French people to be able to eat une poule au pot on Sundays.

And I'm going to stop here because I feel a tiny depressed.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 8th August 2010 17:57 (UTC)

Depressed by French history or by ordinary people's lack of knowledge of it? *passes you the bottle*.

Though I'm amused that Asterix plays a central role in it. :-)

And what's Castillon?

The final battle of the Hundred Years' War in 1453. A decisive French victory, which is why nobody in England has ever heard of it. ;-) Or maybe you know it under a different name?






Posted by: candleanfeather (candleanfeather)
Posted at: 9th August 2010 13:02 (UTC)

Posted by: eowyn_315 (eowyn_315)
Posted at: 8th August 2010 16:31 (UTC)
Amanda Seyfried

Haha, this reminds me of my Public Policy class last week, in which we had a history lesson entitled, "It's All Oliver Cromwell's Fault." :)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 8th August 2010 17:59 (UTC)

At university I was a charter member of the 'Oliver Cromwell Was Actually A Good Bloke' club. I think he was, as long as you weren't a Roman Catholic or a King, at least...

Posted by: eowyn_315 (eowyn_315)
Posted at: 8th August 2010 18:06 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 8th August 2010 18:16 (UTC)

Posted by: eowyn_315 (eowyn_315)
Posted at: 8th August 2010 18:40 (UTC)

Posted by: Emmie (angearia)
Posted at: 8th August 2010 17:27 (UTC)

The Americans decide to leave the Empire. Good riddance. We go off and conquer India and Australia to make up for it.

Oh it's our fault, eh? ;-)

I love how the violence is commemorated with cakes and tapestries. We opened up a can of whoopass, then wrote a sonnet about it, tra la la!

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 8th August 2010 18:04 (UTC)

Oh it's our fault, eh?

Naturally. That's another aspect of British history: 'The Americans Always Try To Take The Credit', so we give them the blame too. ;-)

We opened up a can of whoopass, then wrote a sonnet about it, tra la la!

The great conundrum of English history; we're very violent, but very polite about it too. That way, you never see us coming until it's too late.


I should probably repeat the disclaimer here that this isn't really how I see history...

Posted by: Lily (lavastar)
Posted at: 8th August 2010 17:46 (UTC)

This is surprisingly similar to my general impression of British history.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 8th August 2010 18:05 (UTC)

I blame Hollywood. :-)

(Also, nice to see you around again, stranger...)

Posted by: Lily (lavastar)
Posted at: 8th August 2010 18:16 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 8th August 2010 18:19 (UTC)

Posted by: Lily (lavastar)
Posted at: 8th August 2010 18:27 (UTC)

Posted by: Lily (lavastar)
Posted at: 8th August 2010 18:28 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 8th August 2010 18:34 (UTC)

Posted by: Lily (lavastar)
Posted at: 8th August 2010 19:46 (UTC)

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 8th August 2010 17:47 (UTC)

Oh, this was fun. Let's see:

* Long Ago. Ice age, stone age, bronze age. Nobody knows what was going on, but there are probably kings buried under every hill. People ate tree bark. Trolls ate people.
* Vikings. Who, depending on your political bent, were just friendly traders with advanced negotiation techniques or the righteous scourge of the lesser peoples down on The Continent. People sacrificed to Odin and Thor but were basically good democrats. Then we converted to Christianity even though being Pagan was more fun.
* Middle Ages. Nothing much happened. Kings had funny names like "the lisping and limping" or "the weak-brained". We were definitely not ruled from Denmark! OK, most kings and noblemen and tax collectors were evil Danes and Germans for a while, but everyone lived out in the woods and ate tree bark and had no idea what was going on in the cities so we were totally autonomous anyway.
* 1500s. King Gustav Vasa started a rebellion all on his own, kicked out the Danes, made us proper Protestants rather than Papists (who, as far as we know, are still evil, still pray in Latin, and probably still have an inquisition), centralized government, snarked at the peasants, and had bad teeth. Had a bunch of sons, at least two of whom were certifiably insane. The ones who were comparatively sane built...
* 1600s. The Empire. Gustavus Adolphus won the 30 years war single-handed, except he died a few years into it because the Germans fought dirty, Queen Christina was a Papist and a lesbian, not that there's anything wrong with that, and then there were a bunch of kings named Charles who walked on water (literally) and killed embarrassing amounts of Danes, Poles and Russians (in a very fair and democratic way, mind) until the Russians started hitting back for some strange reason. Charles XII was either the greatest war hero ever or an insane psycho (depending on your political bent) and was probably assassinated by his own men.
* 1700s. In the countryside, people ate tree bark. In Stockholm, people wrote songs about booze and held costume balls. We kept picking fights with Russia and were the moral victors every time. Kings were powerless and wished they had absolute power like in France. King Gustav III got absolute power like in France and was assassinated at one of the costume balls. He was gay (or possibly just wannabe French) and supported the arts.
* 1800s. Gustav IV somehow managed to lose Finland (which must mean we had a Finland to lose, cool, we were probably very benevolent towards them) and got fired. We replaced him with one of Napoleon's generals who liberated Norway from the Danes instead. 200 years of peace began, which makes for boring history. At some point, we became awesome at making things out of steel and wood. Even so, we were very poor and those who were sick of tree bark emigrated to America.
* 1900s. We graciously insisted on giving the Norwegians their independence. We were suddenly a democracy in which everyone had food and a vote and possibly a Nobel prize.
* World wars I and II. We were neutral and too busy building a welfare society to care what was happening down on The Continent. Sure, we allowed the Germans to use our railways and sold them stuff they needed, but in our defense, we stopped doing that after D-Day. Besides, we totally almost sort of kind of helped the Finns fight that evil dictator with a funny moustache, whatshisface... Stalin.
* 1940s-28 February 1986. Social democratic welfare state. Life was perfect. Everyone was rich. Everyone had a job. Everyone moved to the city and wrote a lot of books about eating tree bark. Ingmar Bergman, IKEA, ABBA and Björn Borg ruled and we were the shining beacon of democracy and civil rights and the envy of everyone except the Americans who kept getting us mixed up with the Swiss.
* 1 March 1986-now. Our prime minister got killed by a wino (or possibly unspecified evil foreigners) and everything fell apart. Suddenly we're all unemployed and poor even though we're richer than we were in the 70s. Non-social democrats started winning elections by promising to get us back to the social democratic welfare state. We get cheated out of a well-deserved Eurovision win every year. But at least we're better off than the Danes.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 8th August 2010 18:10 (UTC)

That was both hilarious and oddly enlightening. :-) I'm patting myself on the back that I actually understood the reference to the King Charles walking on water - he marched an army across the frozen sea to attack Denmark, yes?

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 8th August 2010 20:01 (UTC)

Posted by: mymatedave (mymatedave)
Posted at: 8th August 2010 22:54 (UTC)

Posted by: Lily (lavastar)
Posted at: 8th August 2010 18:25 (UTC)

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 8th August 2010 20:05 (UTC)

Posted by: Lily (lavastar)
Posted at: 8th August 2010 22:33 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 9th August 2010 01:39 (UTC)

Posted by: Lily (lavastar)
Posted at: 9th August 2010 20:05 (UTC)

Posted by: harsens_rob (harsens_rob)
Posted at: 14th August 2010 07:40 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 14th August 2010 14:07 (UTC)

Posted by: harsens_rob (harsens_rob)
Posted at: 15th August 2010 03:50 (UTC)

Posted by: The One Who Isn't Chosen (gabrielleabelle)
Posted at: 8th August 2010 22:55 (UTC)

Oh. Appropriately timed. I've been reading Lies My Teacher Told Me, which is about the revisionist US history that's taught in our schools. It's making me rage-y. *shakes fist*

I giggled up through the Middle Ages. Then, I'm afraid, my knowledge of British history is not so good. But then you got to the industrial revolution and I totally started giggling again! /ignorant american

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 9th August 2010 01:33 (UTC)

The boring bit in the middle tends to be the bit they teach us about in school here, probably because we wouldn't get to hear about it if it were just left up to popular culture.

Though the Civil War is fun for confusing people online in history-related forums, because you'll always get someone who starts talking about "the Civil War" as if there's only ever been one of them, and gets all confused when you start discussing Prince Rupert and the New Model Army instead of Lee and Grant. :-)

The best book on US history I ever read was Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of the United States. It's definitely not a whitewash, and manages to be funny at the same time.

Posted by: harsens_rob (harsens_rob)
Posted at: 14th August 2010 07:41 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 14th August 2010 13:51 (UTC)

Posted by: harsens_rob (harsens_rob)
Posted at: 15th August 2010 03:52 (UTC)

Posted by: GingerWall (gingerwall)
Posted at: 9th August 2010 04:52 (UTC)

Posted by: The One Who Isn't Chosen (gabrielleabelle)
Posted at: 9th August 2010 06:11 (UTC)

Posted by: sazza_jay (spikes_wish)
Posted at: 9th August 2010 08:00 (UTC)

Dude, you totally left out the druids. And the Henge. They brought that shit down from *Wales*. Surely worth a mention?

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 9th August 2010 11:06 (UTC)

Hey, we have 2,000 years of recorded history. I can't include everything. :-p

Posted by: Bob the Mole (bobthemole)
Posted at: 9th August 2010 09:41 (UTC)

Thanks for the cheat-sheet! As a non-Brit I tend to get lost between the Elizabethan era (pretty dresses) and the Regency era (more pretty dresses).

Britain is now too poor to be a world power. We comfort ourselves by setting up the Welfare State and the NHS instead.

I didn't know about the connection. That's pretty cool.


On a serious note, I didn't realize that slavery/abolishment is considered important enough in British history to merit its own place on the tl;dr list. It's rarely/never mentioned in pop-culture.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 9th August 2010 11:04 (UTC)

I didn't know about the connection. That's pretty cool

Well, to put my serious historian's hat on for a moment: Britain faced a desperate situation in WW2. In order to survive as a nation, they had to mobilise the whole of society and the economy for the war effort, with everybody making a contribution and working together under government supervision.

It worked, and it was surprisingly popular - and it convinced people that after the war was over, the same methods should be used in fighting poverty and disease that had been used to fight the Germans. So at the same time the British Empire was being dismantled, the Welfare State was being set up.


I didn't realize that slavery/abolishment is considered important enough in British history to merit its own place on the tl;dr list.

It's not so much that the slave trade has a huge role in popular culture, as that our schools spend a lot of time teaching about it. As you'd imagine, it's not universally popular; our conservative right wing would much prefer teachers to devote that time to talking about the splendour of the Empire or whatever.

Edited at 2010-08-09 11:04 (UTC)

Posted by: Emmie (angearia)
Posted at: 9th August 2010 14:16 (UTC)

Posted by: counteragent (counteragent)
Posted at: 9th August 2010 12:55 (UTC)

This is awesome.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 9th August 2010 13:28 (UTC)

:-)

Posted by: none of the above (frogfarm)
Posted at: 9th August 2010 14:20 (UTC)

I now consider myself suitably Enlightened.

The history on the carnival ride in Idiocracy is also a favorite. For almost equal snarkiness in the context of a serious treatment, my preferred revisionist take is Murray Rothbard's Conceived In Liberty.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 9th August 2010 21:23 (UTC)

But the enlightenment was French, not English. Or possibly Scottish. ;-)

Posted by: erimthar (erimthar)
Posted at: 9th August 2010 15:42 (UTC)

Okay, let’s see...

1. Heroic pilgrims arrive from England in search of religious freedom (theirs, nobody else’s), and step off the boat onto a stone labelled “Plymouth Rock.” They immediately throw a big feast for the local Indians (who are all Hollywood style Plains Indians, of course), who then repay us by trying to stop us from stealing their land for the next 300 years.

2. Heroic colonists rebel against British rule because it sucks to pay taxes. Paul Revere warns everybody. Washington spends a winter in Valley Forge huddling under a blanket, then sails across a river (maybe or maybe not the same river he once threw a silver dollar across.) He chops down a cherry tree and fails to lie about it. Colonists win the war because British troops march slowly, in neat rows, with their rifles over their shoulders, enabling scrappy colonial sharpshooters to crouch behind barrels and pick them off at will.

3. Heroic frontiersmen kill lots of ungrateful Indians and expand the country westward.

4. Heroic northerners go to war with the South in order to abolish slavery out of the goodness of their hearts. Heroic southerners fight to defend their freedom and their way of life and the honor of the ladies.

5. Heroic tycoons usher in the Gilded Age, thereby giving us lots of nice mansions to take tours of today. Ungrateful workers frequently go on strike for things like human dignity, living conditions that include actual food, water and oxygen, and more than four hours of sleep per night, not appreciating how lucky they are to have jobs at all.

6. World War I starts in 1917. Heroic Americans win it in about a year.

7. World War II starts in 1941. Heroic Americans liberate teary-eyed Europeans, who then stab us in the back by disagreeing with our foreign policy from time to time. We defeat Japan, and help them by giving them the Marshall Plan, lots of U.S. military bases, baseball, and sexy schoolgirl uniforms. They stab us in the back by doing capitalism better than we do.

8. The Cold War. All color is switched off throughout eastern Europe, and permanent winter sets in. Evil Russians are eventually defeated by heroic American awesomeness and Ronald Reagan.

9. September 11. Heroic Americans are told by their government to cower in fear of hirsute brown people and starving Mexican migrant workers. With everyone afraid of Arabs and Mexicans and poor people, homosexuals slip in under the radar and start to get married. Despite this, American society fails to unravel any faster than it was already.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 9th August 2010 21:25 (UTC)

Very heroic. But do I detect a note of cynicism? ;-)

Posted by: Dio (diachrony)
Posted at: 9th August 2010 17:22 (UTC)
bad apple (iconsdeboheme)

This post and the entire comment thread are pure win!

I feel painlessly educated, as well as delightfully entertained.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 9th August 2010 21:31 (UTC)

:-)

Posted by: William B (local_max)
Posted at: 11th August 2010 17:27 (UTC)

So (a little late--only had time to compose my own) this should probably not be used as instructional material but I kind of don't know much of this in the first place. You'd think as a Canadian the period before 1600 or so would be part of "my" history but....

Re: Henry VIII, Oddly, my mother and her sisters have the names Jane, Catherine and Anne, which my mother claims is a coincidence.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 12th August 2010 15:32 (UTC)

I have been wondering if I should do an annotated version of this saying, "You know I said this isn't neessarily 'balanced, measured or accurate'? Well, here's a rather more judicious version..." :-)

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