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Modern British Perception of the American Revolution?

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cigars of the beeper
Member
#1 · Posted: 17 Sep 2009 00:33 · Edited by: Moderator
Yes, this has absolutely nothing to do with Tintin, but I've always wanted an answer to this question, and there seem to be many obliging British people around here, so here goes.
What do most modern British people think of us, those colonists who they sent to live in a far-off place, who suddenly got mad and dumped all the heavily-taxed tea into the harbor, who had the nerve to throw snowballs at soldiers who patrolled the streets, who formed a continental congress, and army, and decided to fight against those who thought they had complete authority, and then, finally, sent a (rather accusatory) note to the King, declaring their independence?
How do people feel about it now?
Most Americans are still proud of it, as you'd expect, but are the British embarrassed, or angry about it?
Is it kind of glossed over in the British schools?
By the way, I have absolutely nothing against the British. I am not mad at them for overrunning our country with soldiers, or even of their burning down the White House during the War of 1812.
mct16
Member
#2 · Posted: 17 Sep 2009 01:27
I think that the view is that there are no hard feelings. True, starting a revolution because you prefer coffee to tea or object to the price of stamps seems a bit OTT but there you are. You've more than made up for it by helping us deal with nasty Germans (twice) and the Marshal Plan was more than welcome.

Seriously, though, I think the overall feel is that the American War of Independence (as we Brits persist in calling it) was just another step in the overall struggle for freedom that has gone on for centuries, both before and since. I know that democracy, even in America, is not deemed to be perfect (at least some American friends of mine say so) but it was still a major step in the right direction.

Did you know that if you go to Trafalgar Square and face the National Gallery you can see a statue of George Washington right in the middle of London? If we British can honour (as opposed to "honor") our former foes then I really would say that all is forgiven.

I don't know about the current school curriculum but back in the 1980s we somewhat skipped the issue and focused on European revolutions like that of France. By the way, out of interest, do schools in America focus on history state-by-state (i.e. New York history for New York schools) or the country as a whole?
cigars of the beeper
Member
#3 · Posted: 17 Sep 2009 19:43 · Edited by: Moderator
Hello, mct16.
That's really interesting about a statue of George Washington in London.
As for your question, American history is not taught on a state-by state basis, probably because the history itself crosses state-lines too often.
American history books usually begin with the Bering strait, and the first Indians (Native Americans, if you prefer) crossing over from Asia.
They then jump forward a few thousand years to Christopher Columbus (who is a national hero) and his discovery of America.
Sometimes before Columbus, they discuss the Norse discovery of America, but not usually.
From Columbus they go to the Spanish conquests of the empires of Central and South America, and the smallpox epidemics.
They then go on to the first colonies in Virginia, which are followed in 1620 by the voyage of The Mayflower (do your schools talk about that?) and the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the first Thanksgiving, etc.
Then on to the thirteen colonies, and unrest, and war, and war, and more war up to the present day.
mct16
Member
#4 · Posted: 17 Sep 2009 23:00 · Edited by: Moderator
I believe that the Mayflower Pilgrims are mentioned in passing, though mainly as an example of people fleeing persecution as opposed to being one of the founding colonies of America.
cigars of the beeper
Member
#5 · Posted: 18 Sep 2009 01:06
Well, that is a huge event in American history. I think in some ways that the Pilgrims are kind of seen as the first "Americans", seeking after freedom and a better life. We still celebrate "Thanksgiving," which commemorates a feast which they had with the Indians, to give thanks for their new land, and to show their good-will.
Harrock n roll
Moderator
#6 · Posted: 19 Sep 2009 13:22
cigars of the beeper:
How do people feel about it now? Most Americans are still proud of it, as you'd expect, but are the British still somewhat embarrased, or angry about it? Is it kind of glossed over in the British schools?

Very good questions cigars. At my school (I went to a comp school in London from the late '70s to the mid '80s) I wasn't taught much at all about American history. I don't know how much they teach about it now at secondary schools, but I suspect it still is rather 'glossed over' in history lessons (although, it obviously depends on how good the school is).

A few years ago I was complaining to an American friend of mine that Americans were quite ignorant of European history. But when she asked me "and what do you know about American history?" it left me quite stumped! I realized that actually, I was pretty ignorant of American history, particularly the American Revolution. Since then I've tried to make amends and read lots about it. For instance, I didn't know that in the American Revolutionary War (the later stages) France, Holland and Spain had made alliances with the Americans, leaving the British to fight a global war, with no allies.

Even when I was tying to find out about it I couldn't fail to notice the hole in the history books. The Times Atlas of World History has only 2 pages(!) on American history (a double page spread, so only one map), and the rest is mainly European history. So there certainly is a bit of ignorance about it (in the UK at least). Whether that comes from 'embarrassment', I'm not sure. I'd be interested to know how much it is taught in schools around the world.
mct16
Member
#7 · Posted: 19 Sep 2009 18:52
I don't think that it is an "embarrassing" issue as such, rather that history is a long and detailed subject and some parts are ignored because of this. Cigars has implied that American schools cover about 500 years of history whereas we have to cover over a 1000, going as far back as Alfred the Great, the Norman Invasion, the Hundred Years War etc.

At school, I found that much of the period between the early Renaissance and the late 18th century was glossed over until we reached the period of the French Revolution and Napoleon, right up to and including World War Two.

Much about the period of Henry VIII, Elizabeth, the Civil War and the rule of the Georges from Hanover were ignored. (Mind you, the Georges in particular were not what you might call shining examples of monarchy, and I do not just mean that lunatic who lost us the 13 Colonies either.)

On the other hand, history has tended to verge on the critical of late. I recently heard that an Asian girl, who is at a school in London, was taught that Britain should "apologise" for the years of empire and the occupation of foreign lands such as India. Her mother, who comes from India, said that this was nonsense. British rule was not perfect but who can name a single example of perfect government anywhere? She stated that on the positive side the British did curb the power of the Maharajas, brought in the railways, dealt with the Thuggee and introduced more advanced forms of educations. Those who benefited from that included Gandhi and Nehru - meaning that we did somewhat shoot ourselves in the foot on that one.
cigars of the beeper
Member
#8 · Posted: 21 Sep 2009 18:24
Harrock n roll:
A few years ago I was complaining to an American friend of mine that Americans were quite ignorant of European history.

I'm rather ashamed in myself for not knowing much European history. Hearing of people like Napoleon, I can tell that it's important, but I really know nothing of Napoleon. A few months ago I was reading Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, and was basically "stumped" by the parts about Waterloo. I have a vague idea about Napoleon, and the battle and stuff, but I know absolutely nothing about Wellington and Nelson and everyone. I sometimes find myself feeling very annoyed at American history books, and how they act like American history is the most important.

mct16:
Cigars has implied that American schools cover about 500 years of history whereas we have to cover over a 1000,

Actually, if you look back to what I said, our history books start at a time more than 10,000 years ago, when the first humans inhabited America.
mct16
Member
#9 · Posted: 21 Sep 2009 18:54
cigars of the beeper:
American history books usually begin with the Bering strait, and the first Indians (Native Americans, if you prefer) crossing over from Asia. They then jump forward a few thousand years to Christopher Columbus (who is a national hero) and his discovery of America.

Sorry, from this statement I assumed that most of those 10,000 years were skipped over without going into actual details. In fact, how much is known about the history of the Native Americans before Columbus? Not just how they lived, but their leaders, the relationships between the tribes and nations etc.?
cigars of the beeper
Member
#10 · Posted: 23 Sep 2009 21:44
mct16:
Sorry, from this statement I assumed that most of those 10,000 years were skipped over without going into actual details. In fact, how much is known about the history of the Native Americans before Columbus? Not just how they lived, but their leaders, the relationships between the tribes and nations etc.?

Well, technically, stuff from that era is not truly "history," but is actually "prehistory." Archaeologists have learned quite a bit about these early cultures from the things which they left behind. They have named one of the earliest cultures the "Clovis" culture, after a town in New Mexico where evidence of them was first discovered. They have been able to find out how long ago these things happened by using radiocarbon dating from remains of campfires, and have found what they ate from the skeletons of animals which are sometimes found. I actually don't know what is known about their cultures, (aspects such as religion, governmental system, etc.) but I think that scholars probably have some idea. You are right, though, that since not much is known about this era, much of it is skipped. This is a bit off-topic, but I remembered a saying I heard once which explained the difference between Europeans and Americans: "Americans think one hundred years is a long time, and Europeans think one hundred miles is a long way."

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