Breaking Glass

Peace With Zulus

Like most literate Brits of my generation, I grew up immersed in the book 1066 and All That, the brilliant parody of historical writing published in 1930 by W.C. Sellar and R.J. Yeatman.  Among the large chunks of the book I can still recite verbatim is the catalogue of Victorian colonial wars, which mimics with lethal accuracy the actual tone of contemporary textbooks.  A famous sample: “Zulu War. Cause: the Zulus; Zulus exterminated; Peace with Zulus.”  However bizarre the idea might appear, I would here like to make a modest proposal for a revival of those much-maligned textbooks that Sellar and Yeatman were eviscerating.

1066 and All That resonated particularly because, in the 1960's, that kind of imperial history still made up a large portion of what we were actually studying in high schools.  My history curriculum at that stage still retold the growth to glory of the British Empire in India and Africa, with all its heroes (Clive, Wolfe, Napier, Garnet Wolseley), and those deluded villains like Tipu of Mysore who resisted empire and, thus, stood in the way of historical destiny.  Not, of course, that this was the only kind of history on offer.  My own school assigned pupils into two distinct curricula, one imperial and warlike, while others learned about British social history, with a central emphasis on labor unions, social democracy, and reform movements.  We studied the Indian Mutiny...

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