Sunday, July 25, 2010

New State arguments 12 - the importance of history

One of the difficulties those of us who want self-government for New England face in getting our message across is the loss of our own history. The reasons for this are complex, but link to the combination of demographic change with changing research and publishing fashions.

Normally, historical memory is preserved through a combination of folk memory, schooling, books and coverage in media, film and television. Demographic change and especially the rise of coastal populations means that there are a large number of people in New England who have limited historical connection to our past. The folk memory has diminished.

New England history is not covered in schools, while publishing, media, film and television coverage links to what is popular at the time. New England stories are not.

On the research side, academic interest in local and regional history within New England peaked around 1980. From that point, the number of theses at all levels dealing with aspects of New England history tailed away sharply. Since theses are the key raw material for later writing, the number of books and articles declined.

The loss of history was greatest at the broad regional level. Local and family history groups continued their work, although increasingly distribution of the results was limited. Coverage of local work in bookshops declined.

One side-effect of this loss of history is that the self-government cause came to be seen as a quaint anachronism from the past, rather than as a central element in New England history that had had national ramifications. A second side-effect is that many of the arguments and ideas developed over time were lost and had to be re-discovered by those becoming interested in the self-government cause.

The loss here was not just local. There is something rather sad, for example, about the way in which every renewed interest in population distribution and decentralisation over the last thirty years has effectively started from scratch. It is as though the detailed arguments put forward not just by the New State Movement, but by all those concerned with country or regional development, have been effectively locked into a sealed vault concealed from the present.

I make this point now because in reproducing my biography of the New England leader David Drummond, I have reached the point where I have just published the detailed story of the Nicholas Royal Commission. This now means that I have covered a large slab of New England history and politics from early settlement by the Europeans through to the mid thirties. This includes the history and impact of the Northern/New England separation movement.

Those interested can find the entry point for the series here: Decentralisation, Development and Decent Government: the life and times of David Henry Drummond, 1890-1941 - introduction.   

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