I am a historian by training, so you might expect me to instinctively favour of arguments about how ‘we mustn’t airbrush history’ and ‘we mustn’t edit history to meet current values’.
But two things strike me about those who say this when a contemporary controversy comes up.
First, history is already massively edited. Too much has happened for it not to be. That’s why there isn’t a statue of me as a 4 year-old. History has been edited already to leave that out as irrelevant and trivial.
Saying ‘we mustn’t edit history’ is asking for the impossible. The question is how to edit it, not whether or not to edit it.
Hence you get them shouting out in defence of statues put up long after people had died in order to rewrite their own role in history (hello, Edward Colston). Those protesting about somehow changing history frequently are actually defending a previous deliberate alteration.
And yet also the same people are usually very much at the back of the queue when it comes to fixing previous really bad editing of history, such as the common pattern of editing out of history the contributions of women.
If you want to love history, that’s great. But remember, what was in the history textbooks when you were a child was not a perfect version to be preserved at all costs. It was just the history as was when you were at school. Not the perfect history for all time.
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