Gerald Parsons questions ‘What is History?’

Gerald Parsons addressed The Green Ribbon Club last week on the subject “What is History?” He opened with an account of a meeting in 1647, chaired by Colonel Rainsborough. Seated around Rainsborough, those present each wore a Green Ribbon. Deftly, Gerald drew us in with this reference to the name of the society. He then discussed three Historians, A J P Taylor, E H Carr and Lord Macaulay and drew attention to their ability to communicate and connect, emphasising the value of narrative History (against skills based History so favoured by exam boards). He cleverly brought in references to all the people studied by students at Bedales: Charles 1st, Napoleon, Ferdinand and Isabella and Lenin to mention a few. He went on to explore how he viewed History as an integral part of his life and recommended several ways in which students might do the same. He suggested keeping a diary or log book as he had done all his life. He suggested making connections across History to the present, perhaps imagining a dinner party and placing guests together to discuss how they might get on…Lenin and Churchill? Charles the 1st and…? He then suggested making connections with what was around one: whenever it snows, he pictures the Battle of Towton, the bloodiest fought on English soil and fought in a snowstorm. Even passing a lamp post gives him cause to reflect. He asked whether students might find it difficult to find their way around London two hundred years ago when there were no street names. In this and many other ways, Gerald taught students that History does not end at the classroom door. This was a thought-provoking, stimulating and scholarly presentation and gave significant weight to the idea of the importance of History.

By Jonathan Selby, Head of History


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

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