Written by Simon Childs, one of the occupiers in a personal capacity. The opinion expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the occupiers as a group.
If there’s one thing the process of occupation has done for me personally, it has been to reinforce my love for my subjects – history and politics – just at the time when they’re under threat. These subjects are so intertwined that it seems pointless to talk of them as separate – for this article I’ll address them as ‘history’, in that everything that happened since I finished typing this sentence is history, and politics happens in a historical context.
As one of my history lecturers said today, we are facing more than just some cuts to our education and a rise in tuition fees, terrible though those are. As historians (and the same goes for politics students, sociologists, artists, musicians, geographers, etc etc. ad nauseam), we are facing a complete dismantling of our subject in this country.
So, how can history help decide what to do about it? Well, in the process of this occupation alone we’ve been inspired the occupations that happened in Paris universities in 1968. History tells us that people power can work. I’ve heard so many people invoke the poll tax riots – they’re talking about history. It can also warn us of past mistakes and tell us what not to do.
In a wider sense, for me, history gives a sense of perspective. It allows me to realise that these cuts are not inevitable – throughout the history of humanity, societies have organised themselves in thousands of different ways. There is nothing inevitable about these cuts, or about anything. Life is what we make of it. Society is what we make of it. The limit is our collective imagination.
When Peter Tatchell said, “All human progress is the result of far-sighted people challenging orthodoxy, tradition and powerful, vested interests,” it’s an understanding of history that gives him that insight. And that insight allows him to urge us; “Don't accept the world as it is. Dream about what the world could be - then help make it happen. In whatever field of endeavour you work, be a change-maker for the upliftment of humanity."
I don’t care what Lord Browne, the former head of BP, thinks about history. I don’t care that he doesn’t think it’s an economic priority. History is awesome. Don’t make it a thing of the past.