For England See Wales: Robin Evans Shows That the Neglect of the History of Wales, and of Other Small Nations, Impoverishes Our Historical Understanding. (Opinion Forum)

By Evans, Robin | History Review, September 2001 | Go to article overview

For England See Wales: Robin Evans Shows That the Neglect of the History of Wales, and of Other Small Nations, Impoverishes Our Historical Understanding. (Opinion Forum)


Evans, Robin, History Review


The recent television series, Simon Schama's A History of Britain, received much critical acclaim. Here in Wales, on the other hand, it was seen by many as yet another example of an Anglo-centrism. Our nation was shown, once again, as being on the periphery, not an integral part, of the history of the British Isles. However, anyone who was taught history in the schools of Wales, certainly pre 1980s, would probably recognise Schama's interpretation. The lack of balance shown in this particular series reflects the weaknesses inherent in history curricula in Wales and England today. In our schools it is the history of the nation state, i.e. England, that dominates, while the national history of Wales is relegated to the status of regional history.

WALES RESURGENT?

Arguably, at least within Wales itself, attitudes have changed. At all levels within the country there has been a resurgence in the study of Welsh history over the last quarter of a century, both in terms of the study of the history of Wales itself and of Wales' role in the wider world. This suggests a nation confident of its future and clear in its perception of the past. The `national' history curriculum in Wales gives Welsh history, on the whole, the attention it merits. Schools may, if they so wish, study Welsh history at examination level. There has been a tremendous increase in resources available for the teaching of history in Wales, particularly the teaching of Welsh history. There remain, however, significant weaknesses.

There appears to be a lack of commitment in some schools to teaching Welsh history, which is still perceived by some as being both less interesting than, and even subservient to, English history. A recent report on the teaching of Welsh history in the schools of Wales noted that one of the reasons offered by some schools for not paying significant attention to Welsh history included, amazingly, lack of resources. Also cited was the difficulty of pronouncing Welsh names for those whose first language is English (presumably those same schools will teach Nazi Germany but with Gleichschaltung left out!).

Similar weaknesses exist at examination level. One would expect our national examination board to give a central position to our national history - but not so. In this age of market forces, the Welsh Joint Education Committee has to compete with the much larger examination boards in England. It is the classic case of the corner shop taking on the multinational! The result is that WJEC history courses on the whole appear to be aimed at the `English' market and not towards the needs of Wales. England dominates British history courses while European courses concentrate on the nation states of Europe, thus ignoring the smaller nations of which Wales is one.

This is not to say that Welsh history should completely dominate the history curriculum in Wales, as national history could become an obsession. Thus, the role of immigrants cannot and should not be ignored in our nation's past, while the role of the Welsh on the world stage should be given the attention it deserves, but should not be exaggerated. The argument for more or less Welsh history is perhaps a sign of our insecurity as a nation. However, it is probably fairer to say that it reflects the dominance of the English nation state in British history. The result, it would appear, is that many see England, not Wales, as having the pivotal role in history teaching at all levels within Wales. …

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For England See Wales: Robin Evans Shows That the Neglect of the History of Wales, and of Other Small Nations, Impoverishes Our Historical Understanding. (Opinion Forum)
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