Have you heard of the book “1066 and All That?” It’s a wonderful book. It was written in the 1960s, and poked fun at the way (British) history was taught back then.
The last sentence said something like, “…and America was clearly Top Nation, and history came to a full stop”.
History is, almost by definition, all in the past. Or at least, the history we learn about at school and university is. It is the story of how the world came to be as it is today; by implication, we are separate from it. But of course we aren’t; and history is still unfolding. The times in which we are living today will be studied earnestly in history classrooms of the future.
I first gained a real sense that the times I was living in were part of ongoing history was when the Berlin Wall fell, in 1989. Before that, the Communist block had been a fixed part of my universe; now it was disappearing. This was an undoubted historical event.
Since then the rise of China as an economic superpower has really brought home to us in the West that the tide of world history can turn: America’s place as “Top Nation” is under threat. The events of 9/11 and all that followed from that terrible morning have brought home the fact that history can look very different in different parts of the world. For the West its involvement in the Middle East was a side show, but for millions of Muslims it was the most traumatic episode since Mohammed’s day. The economic downturn after 2008 will undoubtedly be “compared and contrasted” with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression which followed.
None of this is rocket science, but the great migration from the Middle East and Africa into Europe which we witnessed during the Summer brought these thoughts to the forefront of my mind. This was history in the making, and what will come from it is anyone’s guess.