History is not a disposable product

In Ipswich on Saturday, after the heady days of Government announcements in the week, I was asked a question at the East of England Society which I hadn’t predicted. Why was the grave of the great nineteenth century co-operator, George Jacob Holyoake, in Highgate Cemetery not in a better state?

History takes us back. It roots us, even if too much at times can anchor us too.

When I was asked, a few years back, to create a new consumer agency, Consumer Focus, one of the starting points was to ask an eminent historian, Frank Trentmann, to write the new organisation a letter from the past – not to constrain us as if history was a catalogue of lessons, perennially a subject for the classroom or lecture hall, but to give us the freedom to understand the possibilities seen by those who went before us. Frank is coming to an academic post in Manchester, so we will be comrades again.

I have had the pleasure today of reconnecting with another friend from work before, via a long discarded but not deleted compuserve address. Bill Pardy, based in Newfoundland, Canada has long written about community development as a deeply reflective and thoughtful practitioner.

Bill writes that “History and the communities that it created, unlike current consumer products, are not disposable, when no longer of immediate use. Both have tremendous residual value in the lessons learnt by our fore-parents and the many battles and wars that were fought to preserve what was considered important. To develop as a people and to create meaningful economies for the future requires in-depth reflection of our history. This is not for history’s sake, but to discover the values, strengths, and more so, the wisdom that helped people build new futures; as their old ones became redundant.”

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