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What did Henry Ford say about history?

'As a young man, I was very interested in how people lived in earlier times; how they got from place to place, lighted their homes, cooked their meals and so on. So I went to the history books. Well, I could find out all about kings and presidents; but I could learn nothing of their everyday lives. So I decided that history is bunk.'

Henry Ford, 1935

This raises the question of whether some sorts of history are more important than others. One of the recent arguments over school history has been the merits of what Sylvester (1994) calls 'The Great Tradition' mode of school history; monarchs, battles, the empire, the development of parliamentary democracy, against the sorts of history developing in universities after the war- history from below, cultural history, gender and history, etc. In a series of speeches, Nick Tate, in effect Chief Executive for the school curriculum in England, argued for 'more heroes' in British History, and claimed that the primary purpose of school history was to provide young people with a sense of their national identity. (see Phillips, R. 1997, 'Thesis and antithesis in Tate's views on history, culture and nationhood', Teaching History, No. 86, pp. 30-33). In a colloquium on History at the University of East Anglia, 23 May 2000, 'The Great History Debate', Professor Edward Acton questioned this preoccupation with issues of national identity, and argued that giving insight into the nature of power, and the ways in which it could be used or not used to promote 'the general good' was a more important function of school history. (Is it relevant to note here that he is a specialist in Modern Russian History). Whilst not denying the validity of other forms of history, for instance, the history of sport, he advanced the claim that although such histories were 'valid', they were less important and less useful. If we look again to the work of Ken Burns, whose history of baseball was the most watched series on U.S television ever, Burns argues that the history of a sport (or of a form of music) canprovide important insights into the human condition:

"I suddenly realised that I was working on the sequel to the Civil War... Too often we see history as a political, military narrative- in our country, wars and generals and presidents. But here one could find the American Universe in the grains of sand of baseball. It was about immigration and assimilation, and the badge, that at that time came from participation in the so called national pastime. It was about popular culture and advertising. It was about the growth and decay and rebirth of cities, and of course, it was about race, because how could you call this the national pastime if until April 15th, 1947, the most talented baseball players were excluded from the game."

From 'The films of Ken Burns', C4, 9/6/01

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