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BBC Melvyn Bragg End of Series Newsletter on 'Presentism'


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BBC Melvyn Bragg End of Series Newsletter on 'Presentism'
Topic: Miscellaneous 3:08 pm EDT, Jun 24, 2004


It's very much end of term with In Our Time. We're away until 2
September now and the Producer, Charlie splashed out and took the team and myself for a coffee and a croissant. Riches indeed.

After the programme a lot of the talk was about a word new to me:
"presentism". This is the burden under which historians who teach say that they labour increasingly, ie: everything in the past (more than 10 or 15 years ago) has to be described first in terms of the present. The idea of a century or even a previous generation being radically different from our own in its political structure, its transport structure, etc, is, I was told, increasingly hard to grab hold of.

Another point made was that the men who had been involved in the
American Revolution were vastly experienced in constitutional work, because all of them had been very prominent in their colonies and had taken part in many of the institutions inside the colony itself. So not only were there lawyers, not only had they an impulse of idealism, not only did they have a strategy for the betterment of their condition, they also had the experience and the means to carry it from rebellion to revolution to constitution, which is, I think, rare in the history of revolutions.The idea of presentism stays very firmly with me though and perhaps it's something we should look at. It's hard to see why it should be in such strong evidence now, when you'd have thought that with the increase in the number of documentaries, popular history books, etc, there'd be much more awareness than ever before on what happened in our past.

But, as they say, that's all history. So is the last series of In Our Time now. We'll be back in early September and at the moment, we think, beginning with a discussion on the Origins of Life. It sounds like a good starter to us!

Best wishes

Melvyn Bragg

Visit the In Our Time website:
and the Radio 4 Homepage:

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