What is the purpose of learning history? How can different nations use their history to accomplish different goals? What are the consequences of telling history in a one sided way, self promoting way?
This article helps us contrast the distinct views Great Britain and Germany have taken toward viewing their own histories. Is one superior to the other? How would we measure success in this regard? Should countries use history to promote patriotism?
“Neil MacGregor, the former director of the British Museum, has bemoaned Britain’s narrow view of its own history, calling it “dangerous and regrettable” for focusing almost exclusively on the “sunny side”.”
“Speaking before the Berlin opening of his highly popular exhibition Germany – Memories of a Nation, MacGregor expressed his admiration for Germany’s rigorous appraisal of its history which he said could not be more different to that of Britain.
“In Britain we use our history in order to comfort us to make us feel stronger, to remind ourselves that we were always, always deep down, good people,” he said. “Maybe we mention a little bit of slave trade here and there, a few wars here and there, but the chapters we insist on are the sunny ones,” he said.”
“He said Germans had given expression to their the worst chapter of their history in extensive memorials and Mahnmale (‘monuments to national shame’). “It’s telling that in English we don’t even have a word like ‘Mahnmal’,” he said. “The term is just too alien to us.””