I was thinking why, before I started getting interested in all of this and blogging away, did my knowledge of what happened in the 1500s throughout the entire world consist basically of some names of Tudor monarchs and events like Henry VIII breaking with the church and the Spanish Armada coming to invade England and a few other nuggets of information that for some reason got lodged in my memory. Why is it that in history lessons at school you really only learn about the history of leaders, what they did and changes in power?
Leaders are a key element but not the only element of history. Elizabeth I may have supported the arts and this would have helped create the climate for Shakespeare to write his plays. She may have helped greatly to give England its identity and confidence later to expand but of what significance or good is that other than one people having some sort of control over another people. Is it really that significant?
Leaders and governments seem more usually to be unpopular than popular but deserve credit and often huge credit and gratitude from the people who in some way, big or small, take benefit from their decisions insofar as that outweighs any negative consequence. Leaders and creative thinkers in government and commerce have the power to improve people’s standard of living (to the extent that the recipient of the perceived benefit see it as an improvement) and the more people they can do that for the better. Then they might be considered great, especially by those people they benefit and yes, events like Henry’s VIII’s break with the church and various decisions taken by leaders throughout history have played some part in shaping the world today. There is some significance in these things.
However, Shakespeare is much more relevant today than Elizabeth. He has left plays that have been enjoyed by many people over and over again for centuries. Elizabeth might have helped create the environment for Shakespeare and had a big influence on the way one country has evolved, but Shakespeare’s legacy is tangible. Likewise, Galileo improved the telescope and started looking at the skies. This is much more important. Monteverdi began writing operas - much more important. These are things people still use and enjoy today.
I suppose the answer to my first question, to take it quite literally, is simply that you would learn about Shakespeare in an English lesson, you might come across Monteverdi in a music class and you would probably hear a mention of Galileo in Science.
That’s not quite enough for me though. I reckon history should be taught in a way that gives these creators primary importance over or at least equal importance to the leaders who allowed them the space to create. An event like the gunpowder plot of 1605 is much less significant to mankind than Galileo improving the telescope and using it to look at the stars in 1609. I knew about the gunpowder plot but nothing of Galileo.