Devon Zimmerman and Dr. Eric Dursteler, History Department
While history attempts to be factual, history is primarily about perspective, which can sometimes lead to very biased information. Perspective causes countries to have significantly different accounts of the same events, especially wars. In the case of the American Revolution, England and the United States have very different historical accounts of the war. Americans are proud of this event because it represents the birth of their nation and the triumph of common people. While it is said that history is written by the victors, the vanquished certainly have a story of their own. However, little insight is given to what the British perspective is on the American Revolution and how this perspective affects the way they educate their youth on the subject. In an attempt to better understand the British perspective and memory, I looked at how the British wanted their youth to remember the war. However, after reviewing multiple British education books and looking into their past at the British Library, I found that the “American War of Independence,” as they call it, is rarely mentioned in British textbooks. I found it peculiar that an event that is at the center of American education would receive hardly any attention.
There are a variety of reasons that a country could hide an event from their history books; shame, fear, even apathy are just a few. However, this study argues that the American Revolution is not a focus in the British education system because it is only a minor detail in comparison to other events directly related to Britain’s history. Even in the years before the revolution, Britain was only mildly concerned with the American colonies. At that time Britain had many colonies and was balancing affairs within its own country. Additionally, the Industrial Revolution occurred during the time of the American Revolution, which is one of the most influential historical ranges in Britain’s history. However, the limited information that is presented shows a critical view of the colonists that sharply contrasts the American perspective, showing that while the American Revolution is a minor detail in England’s history, each country has their own perspective of wars.
What I found is that one of the major reasons why the education system excludes the American War of Independence from their books is because Britain was occupied with maintaining their growing empire. Although there was interest in the American colonies because of the raw materials they produced, they were not the only colonies in existence. Britain had many other colonies around the world that they had claimed. Some of the territories that they had already colonized included Bermuda, Jamaica, Nova Scotia, Montreal, and many others.i By 1750, Britain had thirty one countries in its empire that were scattered around the world.ii With these other distractions, the British drew very little attention to the colonists. The British lost and gained colonies throughout the course of their empire, which made the colonies only a small loss. There were still many other colonies left to acquire raw materials and revenue from.
Additionally, the American Revolution is not a focus because England had so many other important events at occurred at or around that time. The British textbooks have to cover a much longer range of history than America. As a result, the books focus on the most important historical aspects of Britain’s history. In year eight of British education, the pupils are instructed on the years 1750-1900. While in some texts the American War of Independence is briefly mentioned, it is overshadowed by a much larger British event: the Industrial Revolution.
However, there are also the passages blatantly display British perspective. In one of the main textbooks used by teachers throughout England, it explains why the colonists rebelled. One of the first reasons states that the colonists “had always been awkward, independent-minded people—that is why they emigrated originally—and they did not like being told what to do.”iii
The British depict the colonists as being outcasts who were already rebellious because they had moved away to the colonies. Additionally, the book states that the “British government thought that defending the colonies had been very expensive and they wanted the colonists to contribute toward the costs, but the Americans hated paying taxes, such as duties on tea.”iv The British are depicted as logical and fair with the colonists, but the colonists as rebellious and ungrateful subjects. Furthermore, in the fictitious excerpts from “King George’s Diary,” King George mentions the “rebellious” as well as “traitorous colonists.” This book has little shame about teaching about the revolution from the less widely known British perspective. While this particular text lacks enough information about the event, it certainly portrays the British memory it.
Overall, I thought that there was more that I could have done with this study, so I am continuing to expand upon it, incorporating more ideas about history in memory and the possible ways that British education on the American Revolution has transformed throughout the years. However, I have been lucky to present the information that I have collected so far to students on campus through the ORCA program and at the Brigham Young University President’s Leadership Council. I am also looking to submit my research to the NCUR conference that will be occurring in March 2012. This ORCA experience gave me a chance to grow academically and to see the world, which I had not been able to do before. I grew personally and intellectually through this experience and I would love to have the opportunity to do it again.
- “The British Empire.” Feathers in the Crown. library.thinkquest.org/06aug/02436/en/empires/british/timeline.html (accessed March 20, 2011).
- “America and the British Empire.” Academic American History. http://www.academicamerican.com/colonial/topics/britishempire.htm (accessed March 10, 2011).
- Dixon, James. The World of-‐-‐ History Revision: Key Stage 3, Ages 13-‐14 (London: Letts Educational, 2006), 42.