History – it’s the Future

Is it only me that gets irritated by television and radio presenters talking about historical characters in the present or, sometimes, the future tense? This seems to have been very fashionable for some time. I’m talking about commentary like:
“He’s just conducted his first successful military campaign, leading his forces to victory, and Henry VIII is at the peak of his regal career.” No, he’s not, that was centuries ago – he’s dead and buried. “He is soon to initiate a conflict with the church that will tear at the very fabric of the nation.” I think you’ll find that all took place a very long time ago…

Someone, some historian, probably a very clever and engaging historian, will have hit on the idea of relating historical events as if they were contemporary, as a way of making his or her lectures more interesting; different. It may have been very effective. It will have been taken up by others, once, twice; three times. Still it will have been different and interesting. And then it will have stopped being effective, because it became too common, expected; a cliché. Some presenters start off in the present tense and then get confused, slipping back into the past tense, before remembering that we don’t do that any more (it’s so passé) and moving forward once more to the present and the future. I wonder what will come next. Will historians mimic the first person narrative favoured by so many novelists (which I might also argue was once very effective but has now become a cliché)? Perhaps add in a bit of ‘street’ language to give it an even more contemporary feel?
“So I’ve been King for some time now. I’ve got a wife, but like, it ain’t a love match, if you know what I mean, and there’s this really hot chick at the court called Anne Boleyn, and man, is she getting me worked up an’ all…” You never know, it might even work.

More seriously, I do wonder what effect these kind of tricks will have on future historians. Imagine 200, 500, 1000 years from now, when society (if such a thing still exists) and language has changed almost beyond recognition, and only limited records of the past have survived. Will twentieth century descriptions of fifteenth century events, written in the present tense, cause thirty-first century historians to scratch their heads and wonder why they’re having such difficulty arranging events in the correct order?

Perhaps I’m just being uptight, but it’s one of those things that I find rather annoying. There are others. A few others. Well, actually, rather a lot of others. I may even share them with you at some point…

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About literarylad

Graham Wright is an author whose first novel, Single Point Perspective, is set in and around the city of Manchester, where he lived and worked for more than fifteen years. It's a dramatic piece of literary fiction that is easy to read, imaginative, serious and thoughtful, but with a sense of humour. Graham now lives in South Wales, and is busy writing his second novel.
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