Are we blinded by our love of history?

As our obsession with the past has grown, so has the tendency for us to mythologise it - or skew it for our own political purposes - argues Daniel Snowman...

A coffin containing the skeleton of King Richard III sitting in repose inside Leicester Cathedral. (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)

This article was first published in the January 2016 issue of BBC History Magazine

I’ve loved history since childhood. Brought up during the war, I remember my mother pointing out the overhead fighter squadrons as they flew out in the morning and then, in the evening, watching them return, often with a poignant gap or two in their formation. And the noise – and then the ominous silence followed by a distant explosion – of the ‘flying bombs’ that we listened to together in our makeshift shelter. My father, meanwhile, was on the Kent coast shooting down Nazi planes. All this, my mother told me, would one day be part of history. I listened to Churchill’s broadcasts by her side, celebrated the news of Hitler’s death and danced around the street bonfire on what I learned to call ‘VE Night’. From my grandparents and others, I gradually learned about the previous world war, also against “the Germans”, and how there must never be another one. And later, as a schoolboy, something about earlier times: from Disraeli and Gladstone back to the Tudors and Stuarts and beyond, and went on to do a history degree.

Want to read more?

Become a BBC History Magazine subscriber today to unlock all premium articles in The Library

Unlock now