Thinking Big Staff Lecture - How Do We Change The Past?

In a thought-provoking talk, Head of History, Miss Noble, told us that history isn’t as black and white a subject as it might seem. Although you can’t change the fact that the Armistice that ended the fighting in World War One came into effect at 11 o’clock on November 11th 1918, or that Henry VIII died in 1547, the past is never stuck in the past. Indeed, the way it is used, or misused, means that, very quickly, a range of different views of the past can develop, shifting perspectives and making you question what you know.

Miss Noble focussed on three factors that can ‘change history’: historians, whose ideas and views shift the perspective of the period they are studying; the manipulation of the past by groups and individuals to suit a particular purpose and – an area she has touched on before in relation to Downton Abbey - TV, film and historical fiction.

Among many interesting things, we learned that: ‘fake news’ is nothing new; Stalin was a Photoshop expert, even before it was invented, removing those who became his enemies from photographs, and that a film or TV series can often tell you a lot (and sometime more) about the period in which it was made, not just about the one it depicts.

Miss Noble’s parting advice was that we should look at the past with an open and critical mind; take into account when something was made or written and build up a picture from multiple sources.