Sunday, November 05, 2006

Overheard in the lunch queue

Sorry I haven't been posting much lately. Since we had some VIP visitors, I didn't want to spend my limited time with them in front of the computer.

In my triumphant return to posting, let me ask you a burning question that was thrust upon me in the lunch queue on Friday: When does history become history?

I was minding my own business, really, texting my friend as I waited my turn at the Thai food stand in Whitecross Street. But I couldn't help but overhear the quartet of blokes in front of me as they were talking about the History Channel.

Bloke #1: The History Channel considers it fair game to do a programme (this is how he would have spelled it, ok?) on something that happened two weeks ago. That's how they got away with doing all that on 9/11 so quickly.

Bloke #2: That's rubbish. To me, the 17th century, that's history. Yes, anything after the 17th century is really modern times.

Bloke #3: Yes, an order of pad thai please. Yes, with chicken, please.

So is it just me, or is that a really elitist attitude to take toward history? I can't bring myself to consider a time when women were essentially forced to get married or join a nunnery "modern times." On the other hand, it was nice to hear a bunch of 20-something young men passionately discussing history. You would not overhear this conversation in the U.S., unless you were in the queue at the nearest Chipotle to Harvard.


Blogger pseudonymous in NC said...

Bill Bryson relates this comment at the start of Notes from a Small Island: 'In the US, they think 100 years is a long time; in the UK, they think 100 miles is a long way.'

The sense of history in Britain really does compare to the sense of distance (or what constitutes a 'long journey' or an acceptable 'day trip'). I remember posting elsewhere about how foxhunting wasn't really a British tradition, because it only dates from the mid-1700s. And I honestly believe that. You don't have to travel far outside of London to find ordinary people living in houses that predate the British colonisation of North America.

And for British history faculties, 'modern history' absolutely begins around 1600-1650 -- English Civil War, Peace of Westphalia, Pilgrim Fathers. The renaissance is often 'early modern' or 'early early modern', and 'medieval' ends around 1450.

4:59 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Werbenmanjensen said...

Your comment about distance is spot on. I recall telling an English co-worker about our recent trip to Wiltshire. When I said it was just a day trip (the drive time round trip, including traffic, was about six hours), the reaction I got was, "You didn't stay overnight?"

6:43 PM  
Blogger pseudonymous in NC said...

I've become accustomed to long drives in the US, but my wife still finds it amusing that my parents' sense of what constitutes a 'day out' involves a drive of a couple of hours each way, at very most.

(She listened to It's Immaterial's 'Driving Away From Home', and the 'thirty miles or more' lyric cracked her up.)

It'll be quite liberating, I think, to get back home and embark upon longer day trips. As long as I can afford the petrol.

11:27 PM  
Blogger Smitty Werbenmanjensen said...

At 8 pounds a gallon, affording it ain't easy. Luckily, as Streetcar members, it's someone else's problem (well, other than the fact that the petrol price is built into the hire price).

8:20 AM  

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