Tuesday, 27 March 2012

The National Archives Museum at Kew: skewed history through left-liberal eyes

I’ve just visited the National Archives at Kew for the first time. Huge, impressive place, abuzz with activity. But the little interactive museum on the ground floor is a disappointment, to put it mildly – a perfect example of liberal-left academics misrepresenting this country’s history in an attempt to brain-wash its young people.

For a start, four female British WWII spies are featured (because, one presumes, all British spies were women). But the one the exhibit zeros in on is Noor Inayat Khan, who, as you might have gathered from her name, was Indian. Nuff said.

Then we get a section on William Joyce – Lord Haw Haw – which mentions, prominently, that the nasty little bastard was hanged despite doubts about his nationality. I presume this is in order to suggest that the British government of the time basically lynched him, and to confer on him an aura of martyrdom.

The brave Irish-American freedom fighter is followed by a section about the authorities keeping tabs on George Orwell in the run-up to the publication of his nakedly Socialist tract, The Road to Wigan Pier. Great fan of Orwell as I am, I’m delighted the secret service was keeping an eye on him at this stage. How were they to know he wouldn’t turn out to be dangerous revolutionary? (Liberals always judge our predecessors by the rather bizarre standards of liberal-left quangocrats living in pleasant London suburbs and getting all their news from the Guardian and the BBC.)

Then we get the Cato Street Conspiracy – which involved a bunch of proto-Communists (Spencean Philanthropists, as they were known) planning to murder the whole of the cabinet and the Prime Minister.

Then onto the Chartists – Britain’s first mass working class socialist movement. (Hurrah!)

The British Empire follows – it was really horrid and beastly and unfair, in case you were wondering, but thank goodness the countries we enslaved and exploited finally regained their independence (and, obviously, lived happily ever after).

Slavery next - inevitably. Then the awfulness of prison conditions in the 19th Century (those poor criminals!). And a bit about Charles Dickens (as a social reformer, of course – after all, that was his main job, right?)

Then there’s a section about tracing your ancestors, illustrated by a photograph of a black man. In fact, there are so many photographs and illustrations featuring members of other races (from what I could tell, they’ve even managed to shoehorn in an illustration of a black man in the Domesday Book part of the exhibition!), that I was seriously starting to wonder whether this had been a predominantly black country before the Anglo-Saxons fronted up. (Should you be interested, you can visit the online exhibition, Black Presence: Asian and Black History in Britain, 1500-1850 here.)

Gosh, I'm tired of the endless obsession with inclusivity!

Of course, if you take a look at the full range of the National Archives’ online exhibitions, you get more of a reasonable spread – there’s even one celebrating Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar (although I suspect it’s all about how horrible conditions were for working class sailors at the time). What worries me about the representation of this country’s past in the museum is that it’s evidently aimed at schoolchildren – the language is deliberately simple, nobody over 5’4” could possible get low enough to read many of the explanatory notes, and the lighting is so minimal that only a child’s eyes could successfully penetrate the gloom (yes, I know there's a good reason for the low-key lighting, but I'm surprised nobody's been able to invent a way of effectively illuminating historical documents for public consumption without causing them to fade). And, as my wife pointed out, this is the stuff our children are routinely force-fed in school these days.

What a travesty of this country's glorious history! Presenting Britain's past in a way that achingly liberal, white, middle-class  academics and administrators imagine won't make those of us born elsewhere feel alienated produces a depressing story of class struggle, racial prejudice, exploitative colonisation and governmental wrong-doing. You don't have to be an adherent of Arthur Bryant's version of history to know how ludicrously misleading and unfair that is. Hell's bells - aren't British children allowed to feel heart-swellingly proud of what this country's warriors and statesmen and artists and businessmen achieved?

Pity, because the National Archives strikes (strike?) the casual visitor as an extremely well-run and well-used resource. There were hundreds of people beavering away doing research while we were there, the whole place exuded happy purposefulness – and the self-service restaurant was excellent.


  1. "...nobody over 5’4” could possible get low enough to read many of the explanatory notes".

    Perhaps that is why Martin Amis is always hanging around. By the way, Andrew Roberts does a real hatchet-job on Arthur Bryant in "Eminent Churchillians". Much of this book was researcked at Kew and Roberts is only 5ft tall.

  2. I remember hearing a rumour that the inches lacking from Andrew Roberts' height were added elsewhere. Of course, he could have circulated the rumour himself.

    Speaking of which, I once worked in a newsroom with a chap whom one of the editors always referred to as "Has and Is".