What is an English identity? Some final thoughts on why I love and study History

Welcome to my final historical blog post. I cannot believe I have written over 30 posts in just over two years! It has been great fun and I hope they have all been informative and helpful. This post will focus on what motivates the historian, and why it is important to study. I will also discuss the importance of memory studies/local history and the seventeenth century. Hence, this post will cover a wide range of topics, and will hopefully show my enthusiasm for the subject!

So what motivates the historian? The search for knowledge, an interest in the past, because we find it fun or that we believe we can learn from it are all reasons why we study history. If it was pointless and useless then I doubt it would have survived as long as it has a university subject. We are motivated by adding a tiny bit more to what we know about the past. Adding that small piece to the jigsaw, we feel as though we have done something, achieved something.

History is vital to study. In my personal opinion, we can indeed learn from the past. We can see how we got to where to are now; how the state formed, how the identity of being English came around, and the disappearance of the local/regional identities. All of these are important to understand in the modern world as they are questions often asked. Let’s take the question of English identity for example, what is it to be English? Well in my opinion from what I read from history is that the sense of an English identity was never there until the time of the Civil Wars in the seventeenth century. People more or less identified themselves with their home towns or region such as Kent or Hampshire. This therefore suggests that English identity has only been around for 400 years, and only really solidified 200 years ago in the Victorian era with the emergence of the romanticism and the Empire.

This so called English identity, fails to include embarrassing moments, such as the Anglo-Dutch Wars. The focus is always on the positives, when in fact there are many, many negatives. To look at history and see there’s more to it than just the British Empire and such that we are taught at schools is fascinating, it is more complex and certainly not as positive as we like to think. It allows us to see that countries histories intertwine, that in the seventeenth century, Europe was going through a huge crisis/change and that national identities were forming all over the continent. This developed during the Victorian era, and it should not sadly surprise us, when we read of the reasons as to why Europe found itself in a World War in 1914.

The English identity was of course as rightly put by my friend one time, as ruined by the Normans when they came over in 1066. However, its resurgence started with the Tudors, but developed with the English Civil War. Parliament was fighting for the English, for the English people and parliament. This caused problems with many counties, such as Cornwall, and countries such as Wales. It showed that identity is controversial, and as seen in the recent EU referendum, still is. The Civil War showed us that people see outside interference as negative. The Cornish fought for the King to stop the power of parliament. The same could be said for the Brexit vote against the European Union. This post is not arguing for or against such a vote, my opinion, is that clearly there were issues that were never heard and people wanted to reclaim a sense of ‘English identity’. The neglected English identity had indeed been neglected, and it fought back with a vengeance. Identity is an extremely important issue at the moment in world politics, and it is something that political parties have to address. The decline of centre politics, whether centre-left or centre-right shows that this identity crisis has led to either an increase in nationalism or socialism, two extremes, which are dangerous.  I find all this fascinating, and if you ever get the chance to meet me, you’d notice that this is something I talk about a lot!

What we have seen is that history is vital to study. I have enjoyed every minute of it. I love learning, finding out new things, adding to the jigsaw. Anyhow, as I am leaving, I feel I should give some advice to any students going into their first years. Firstly never take your first year for granted. I learnt so much from my mistakes. I wasn’t getting great grades, and I used my first year to make those mistakes and learnt from them. Secondly, life doesn’t revolve around JSTOR, though it’s a great help, take advantage of what’s around you, and other journal sites.   Thirdly, enjoy your studies! Don’t see it as a chore, but as something you love doing, find something in history that you can’t get enough of and do more of it. I did with memory studies, commemoration and forgetting of history. Even if that topic is enjoy economic history, I’ll forgive you!

When I tell people that I did a history degree, most people assume that I sit in a room surrounded by books and never get out of my house. Well they are partly right! The amount of books that I have read whilst at University is staggering, but I do manage to get out from time to time! Books, journals, documents can hold so much knowledge and are incredibly interesting, however it is important to note that history is all around us. For example, during my research for my MA dissertation, and PhD applications, I found that history is everywhere, yet the people do not know its there. Take Oxford for an example, the capital for Charles I during the First Civil War. People did not know anything about what took place, any plaques and memorials were obscure, and if queried, people could only really tell me of a conflict between Charles and a guy named Cromwell. However if you go to the Netherlands like I did, you’ll notice that the Dutch Revolt is much more prevalent in Dutch popular memory.  It shows that if we have something to be proud of, then we celebrate it, if not, we forget it.  Going back to the identity question, perhaps this shows why the Dutch have never really turned to extremes in politics perhaps?  It is only a observation, but what can be said for definite is that history surrounds us, and we should take note of this, get involved with it and study it.

So to conclude, history is an amazing subject, and Winchester is an amazing University to study it. I am so thankful for the four years I have had at the uni. Maybe I will be back, who knows, but for now, thank you for reading my posts, however dull they may have been, thanks for getting through all my waffle and countless spelling mistakes. I hope they have been useful and interesting, I have had so much fun writing them, but now I leave you! Bye!

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