When asked the question “so what do you study?”, responding with “ancient history” can often result in someone belittling the subject, often without intent. From my experience, people assume that events that happened so far in the past hold little relevance to the modern day, and that ancient history is a relatively easy subject that requires a little academic ability in comparison to other areas of study.
It has become easy for modern establishments to brush aside events that happened literally thousands of years ago as a part of history that isn’t relevant to us anymore, but the truth is quite the opposite. Although the world was vastly different 2000 years ago, the fundamental aspects of modern society are arguably based on the developments made in the ancient past. To cast aside these events just because they didn’t happen within living memory doesn’t mean we can’t and shouldn’t learn from them. Whilst studying classical civilizations at college, I really sensed that it wasn’t quite regarded as equally as the modern history course. An argument for pushing the national curriculum towards modern history topics is that they are more ‘relevant’ to British history. But, surely the society which is known to be responsible for the emergence of democracy is relevant too?
An opportunity to study ancient history in a formal setting has unfortunately become increasingly rare. In the majority of state-funded schools, we learn about ancient Egyptians being mummified in primary school, and might get to learn about the Romans for a couple of weeks in high school. So many subjects are taught in schools to broaden children’s understanding of the world, so it seems unfair that such a huge part of our history, which forms the basis of the society we live in, is omitted. It’s evidently not because children are bored by these subjects- look at the success of series such as Horrible Histories for example. This subject is so … fun. I am aware this opinion is extremely biased, but I have never met one person who isn’t interested in at least one aspect of this subject. From my own experience, high school history focused on the politics of the Britain, or the politics of other countries which affected Britain. Or, we learnt about wars which Britain was involved with. It is true that’s it’s important to educate the younger generation about the history of the country they are growing up in, but I believe that as a multicultural society we should take a global approach to history, rather than a very British-centered view of history.
There seems to be a sense of elitism within classics, as the opportunity to study ancient Greek and Latin is rarely offered in state-funded schools whereas it is more readily available in private schools. There are many exceptions of course, but it does seem unfair that the linguistic skills highly respected within the study of Classics and Ancient History are not as easily accessed by people coming from lower-income backgrounds.
It has become a common misconception that ancient history and classics is an easy subject, and is therefore disregarded by people in authoritative positions. However, due to the nature of ancient sources, and the complexity of political and social structures, classical civilizations is a challenging subject in many aspects. At college, when I was first tasked with reading and understanding translations of ancient texts such as those written by Plutarch, I had so much difficulty understanding the text. However, having the opportunity to study these texts in detail as historical sources has improved by literacy skills and taught me how to be critical of a source. Evidently, a subject which teaches skills like this should not be described as ‘soft’ as it was by Michael Gove. (wanker)
Despite developments in society and technology, parallels can always be drawn between the ancient past and the modern day. The same issues arise time and time again; corrupt politicians, unstable alliances and war being but a few. If more people were given the opportunity to engage with subjects at a young age it’s inevitable that they would benefit from learning about this rich and intriguing subject.