Thursday, 7 January 2010

Council and Government gang up to rewrite - and deny - local history

Yes, you read it right, but we're not talking about a Stalinist attempt to change our records of the way things used to be (who did what to who, when, and so on) just the far simpler job of making sure that records aren't kept, and that, where they do exist, public access to them is systematically denied - all in the name of saving cash, either to fund tax cuts for the most well off, or just to pay for something else.

Either way, it's an appalling deriliction of duty. The case for history has been well made: perhaps my favourite attempt was George Santayana, when he famously observed that if we don't learn from history's mistakes, we are doomed to repeat them.

There have been three direct attempts to limit our access to history in recent week - and all should be resisted.

Firstly, the East Sussex Archive was denied £20,000 in funding for a new public access centre to local records for Brighton and surrounding towns ans villages going back hundreds of years. The cash was diverted to help pay for the London Olympics instead.

Then came the University of Sussex's scheme to sack 115 staff and lecturers in its latest bid to dig istelf out of a finacial hole - this would effectively meant an end to the teaching of any European history before the 20th century on campus. Very New Labour.

And now Brighton City Council has come up with an awful plan to close Brighton History Centre to save a few quid - and on the discriminatory grounds that it is mainly used by older residents.

Whether it be to trace family history, as a resource for historians, or as a low-cost way for people to look into their past, the History Centre is clearly important to many people.

The users of the Centre clearly get a lot out of their visits, including the help they get from the staff, who will all lose their jobs under the proposals.

Of course closing the centre will save the council a few quid but it will see the loss of yet another small, but significant, public service.

I think the bigger problem is that many people do not know where the Centre is, or even that it exists  - and the solution is to publicise and improve the facility, making it easier to use for all.

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