Saturday, 5 March 2016

UNDERSTANDING THE PAST - A PORTAL FOR UNDERSTANDING YOURSELF

Looking down into the valley where I live now 150 years ago

This is a view from Rosewall Hill and the engine houses of the Ransom United tin mine, taken in the late 19th century, looking down into the Stennack valley where the buildings are those of the St Ives Consols tin mine.

Take a camera shot now from the same point and in the same direction and you'll see a Stennack valley covered in housing estates. We live in one of those houses. Underneath those housing estates lies a warren of underground mine workings where men (and some women in the early days) spent
their usually short lives in darkness and danger to make a living that promised more income than provided by farming.

It has only taken a gap of three generations and many of those who live here now can have little or no knowledge of the industrial landscape and life that has been swept away by the currents of economic and social history. That is unless they choose to study their own past and their own local history. And unless their own community and their own local and national politicians make it their business to conserve and commemorate the past, as well as ensuring a future that is fit for all. Understanding the past matters.

I want to pay tribute in this blog to one particular agency concerned with looking after the past: The Norfolk Heritage Centre in the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library within the Forum in Norwich.

Between 1995 and 2003, I was immersed in Norwich archives as I followed the research trails for my doctoral thesis: Drink in Victorian Norwich. The professionals working within the institutions responsible for archiving the past were invariably helpful and pleasant. And so it remains today. I needed permissions to use photographs of Norwich public houses for my website: www.robdonovan-author.co.uk.  and the two professionals I encountered online provided an excellent service. My thanks again to Clare Everitt, Picture Norfolk Administrator and Clare Agate, Community Librarian - Local Studies. And now a copy of my doctoral thesis is on the shelves of a local history library in Norwich for others to read and use. How cool is that!

I fell in love with history at a very early age. My desire to find out about and understand the past was always connected with my own journey to understand myself better. I had to understand my own past to make sense of my present being, just as I sought to understand the past to make better sense of the world today. Such an awareness shaped my life as a history teacher. Young people need to know what has happened to produce the society that will shape the rest of their lives. Their lives  are diminished without such a grasp.

Henry Ford (1863-1947)  got it dreadfully wrong when, in his fifties, he wrote in the Chicago Tribune on the 25 May 1916 (almost 100 years ago!):
'History is more or less bunk'.

On the contrary, History matters. People matter.
        






www.robdonovan-author.co.uk