UK: Historians debate: Apart from or a part of Europe?

Artwork by Edward Moran, Foggy Morning – English Channel, Made of oil on canvas

David Abulafia* is Professor of Mediterranean History at the University of Cambridge is a leading member of a group called ‘Historians for Britain’. In History Today, he writes:

In many ways the organisation that I and several colleagues have been setting up over the last year could equally well have been entitled ‘Historians for Europe’, for we are not hostile to Europe and we believe that in an ideal world Britain would remain within a radically reformed European Union. We are a group of historians, both inside and outside the universities, who believe that a historical perspective on Britain’s relationship with Europe urgently needs to be supplied at a time when debate about that relationship has become not just lively but heated.

In response, another group have written:

On their website, Historians for Britain state that ‘the terms of Britain’s EU membership are undermining . . . Britain’s values’ and must therefore be renegotiated. These values, allegedly ‘peculiar to our shores’, stretch from ‘the ideas of common law and parliamentary sovereignty to the struggle for greater democracy and fairness’. Britain’s ‘ancient institutions’ have experienced a ‘degree of continuity . . . unparalleled in continental Europe’. Such continuity would indeed be spectacular, but it is illusory. Britain’s past is neither so exalted nor so unique.

One of the second group, Rachel Moss, who describes herself as ‘Feminist medievalist, teacher of history, consumer of pop culture. Lecturer at the Faculty of History at the University of Oxford,’ follows it up on her blog:

When I tweeted that people should get in touch with me if they wanted to collectively sign up to a response to the Abulafia piece, I was hoping we might get enough signatories to match the forty-odd listed supporters of Historians for Britain, the group whose views Abulafia was representing in his piece. The level of interest came as a complete shock to me and to my inbox.

I suspect there is something of a generation gap here. Rachel Moss seems to be a lot younger and I am automatically suspicious of anyone calling herself a ‘feminist**.’

Yet, she and her group likely represent the new order. I find it very discouraging.  

*The name sounds Islamic, but it is an old Sephardic Jewish name. Abulafia, born in the UK in 1949 is “an influential English historian with a particular interest in Italy, Spain and the rest of the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. He has been Professor of Mediterranean History at the University of Cambridge since 2000 and a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge since 1974. He was Chairman of the History Faculty at Cambridge University, 2003-5, and was elected a member of the governing Council of Cambridge University in 2008.” (from Wiki)

**I am suspicious because there are so many fruitcakes calling themselves feminists. They have made the word a joke.