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A question for my American readers

A pair of superimposed maps* of the US and UK over at swordnboard has me thinking questions about nationalism and imagination. To whit:

do you consider English/British history to be your history? As opposed to the history of a foreign land (let’s imagine, say, Turkey or Hungary or Morocco, without going too far afield). Is Britain part of your heritage?**

If yes, is there any date at which it stops being your history and becomes foreign?

* with distractingly different projections, but never mind that.
** note this is not a question about cosmopolitanism or universal heritage a la UNESCO. Neither am I asking Ben Anderson’s wedge question about whether you feel pride or shame or whatever about Agincourt or the defeat of the Spanish Armada or Newton. And of course Americans come from all over – hell, even I’m one these days.

  1. July 6, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    To some extent, yes, although I’m not sure what divides the actual shared history/culture and my sense of shared history. My ancestry is Irish-English-Scottish-German, but I don’t know any living relations in those countries.

    As to the date, the first thing that jumped to my mind was WWII, but upon further reflection that may be a general hazy line between history proper and living history. Certainly I feel less familiar with post-war Britain, since it hasn’t been as throughly trapped in the amber of PBS/BBC historicals.

  2. July 6, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    Yes, I consider English/British history to be my history, as opposed to the history of a foreign land. Britain is part of my heritage. I feel the same way but to a lesser extent about ancient Rome and Greece, though unlike the UK I feel no special affinity towards modern Italy or Greece. I don’t think there’s a cutoff date for this emotional tie. For example, when I read about the war in the Falklands I tend to imagine the British as ‘us’ and the Argentians as ‘them’. Which is stupid for a variety of reasons, but that’s where my brain goes.

  3. July 6, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    Speaking of stupid, it seems that I can’t spell Argentinians properly on the first try. Grumble, grumble.

  4. July 6, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    I’d have to say “no”, with exceptions. We’re basically talking my mother’s side, here; my dad’s family has been here for a couple hundred years, but in the Great Lakes region, so any European connection on that side would be to France, not England. But then, I don’t feel any more connected to French history than to English history; I’m interested in both, but I don’t feel it’s *mine*.

    The exception on my mother’s side, though, is that the Irish part was actually resettled Scots from the MacDonalds of Glencoe. They resettled in Ireland after the massacre, you see…

    But I’d chalk up my feeling of disconnect as being more due to a general feeling of historical distance than to ancient resentments.

  5. July 6, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    To me history is intimately tied to Place. The Land. So, when that little hop to a new continent happened it made all of English history seem foreign to me. Hell, out here in the farthermost West (East), I feel little connection to much of *American* history before the civil war.

  6. July 7, 2011 at 12:27 am

    @Telecanter: I was just thinking the same thing. You feel connected to history that is either connected to your family or connected to stuff around you. English people feel connected to English history because they can point to various places around them and say what happened there; Americans who have strong family stories about what happened to great great great grandfather before he came over will feel connected to those portions of English history. Otherwise, Americans in general don’t feel a strong connection to stuff that’s not here.

    The exception is history connected to other stories a few people may become passionately involved with, usually as children. Some people get attached to English history via a huge fondness for King Arthur or Shakespeare, for example.

  7. Dave R.
    July 29, 2011 at 1:37 am

    Just found this, in case anyone sees it:

    That’s an interesting question. There’s a nuance that’s a little hard to express. Broadly speaking, yes, I consider English/British history to be American history. And it does feel different from that of any other country. Simultaneously, I still have a sense of England/Britain as being foreign to America. (Which, I realize intellectually, would have been quite surprising to the first English settlers for a couple of centuries.) So I also would place the dividing line around 1776.

    And I think that’s actually defensible. There’s an argument that the founders got more than they expected or bargained for in unleashing a democratic spirit in the rebellion; in any case it does feel like we have a new and separate national identity.

    For me none of that is tied to family necessarily – I’m actually one quarter Norwegian by direct descent from an immigrant, and any specific English ancestry has been lost in time here in the US, but I know less and am less interested in Norway than I am in English history. My national identity is basically self-referential to national identity rather than to family or lineage.

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