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The Importance of People's History

Over the centuries, people have explored the past in different ways and for a variety of reasons. Importantly, it has now become widely accepted that not only is everybody’s history important, but that we can all play a part in exploring our heritage, recording it and sharing it with others.

Studying the past was once only done by society’s elites. It was used for particular reasons, perhaps to generate support for political regimes, to get people to back campaigns and conquests, to chart military success or celebrate the lives of what were considered important individuals, such as Kings and Saints.

During the course of the 19th century, historians began to think more about what they were doing and how. They began to see themselves as engaged in a scientific process, pouring over documents in libraries and archives to discover historical truth. Weighty tomes explored the past in great detail. But this tended to be the history of nations and elites, and it was history researched and written by just a small few.

Huge swathes of the population were not included at all. What about the rest of the population? Working men? Women? Those from ethnic minorities? Didn’t their stories matter? Didn’t they have a role to play? From the 1960s, a movement sometimes called ‘history from below’ triumphed the importance of everyday people’s lives and experiences.

Such history can seldom be traced by only looking to the newspapers or official records and reports. This was history that needed to be done by talking to people and listening to their stories: it was people’s history and, by its very nature, people themselves needed to be involved in making it.

Making history can be immensely beneficial, for individuals and communities alike. It brings people together, generates pride and understanding, allows people to explore their similarities and shared experiences, but also differences and diversity. It can provide opportunities to learn new skills, exciting activities to get involved in and remarkable projects to contribute to.

Doing history like this makes for excellent history too! It can provide inspired and relevant insights of what has gone before, which enlightens not just our understanding of the past, but also the present and future too.

- Dr John Tanner -

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