Anglo-Saxon countries are often heaped together as having a single culture. When it comes to migration, attitudes to sex, teenage-pregnancy, inequality, language, and bellicosity, that seems about right. At least, the UK, the US, and Australia are pretty close on those scores.
But how about their relation to history? My experience of these three countries is wildly different in terms of how the population relates to their national history. See if you agree with my observations, which are admittedly loose.
The Americans seem to invent a new history every few years, and each group has a wholly different take on history that has a different story of who the arch-enemy is. 9/11 and #MeToo are beautiful examples of what I mean: in both cases it has been a matter of mere months for US history to be re-written by those championing a cause. After 9/11 you saw new research institutes on terrorism arise like mushrooms, complete with stories going back to before the bible about the defining struggle against all sort of terrorism. Similarly, nowadays, the eternal patriarchy is rapidly being uncovered to stretch from time-immemorial to now. With every new wave of thinking, it seems the Americans want to feel they are at the pointy edge of some long historical struggle, with a looming final show-down with the enemy that has been there ‘all along’. When some new fad reaches their group consciousness, the cycle starts anew, complete with a new history and an apparent quick fading of the previous history stories. Fascinating stuff from an anthropological perspective!
The Brits are totally different. History here is not re-written every 10 years by every new group coming along but is only slowly changing and quite stable. The ‘struggle against terrorism’ was treated as a mere variant of opposing ‘those who oppose us this time’, not very different from how the influence of the EU was opposed in some quarters. #MeToo is certainly having an effect, but much more on the notion of what is ‘proper’ than on the reading of history. Maybe I missed them, but books reinterpreting the whole of history in a very particular light that belongs to some proselytising group are rare here. The Brits seem to think that some form of struggle is normal and that people disagree. New norms are quickly absorbed into a fluid notion of what is ‘proper’ rather than necessitating any wholesale re-imagining of national history. History is presented as a slow-changing wave, not a struggle that has its defining moment in the here and now. American-style re-interpretations of history that would necessitate the abandoning of old heroes like Cecil Rhodes are resisted.
The Australians are totally different again in their treatment of history. It currently seems like open warfare between quite virulent and aggressive streams of thought. I am no expert on the matter, but the deafening roar of the guilt-shouters on the left is overshadowed only by the canon-ball salutes of the new militarism that defines the historical reading by the current two major parties. It’s a regular culture war that is not directly related to current political topics at all, but seems to come from opposing economic interests and forms of mysticism, not all that obviously related to new political issues. Yet, unlike the US versions of re-writing history, the new Australian histories are not about setting up a narrative of who the enemy has been all along, but are about accentuating the character of who Australians have been all along. The main character narratives on offer are the universal sinner and the obedient soldier. To me, it’s a quite bizarre spectacle.
I have many explanations for these differences, none of which I am convinced of yet, but in a way, the explanations are less interesting than the observations. So let me know in the comment boxes if you see the same differences I see.