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A Tortoise File

Future of history

We consider what history should look like in the 21st Century – as a subject of study, but also an area of action and protest.

The Future of History

First published
Monday 5 October 2020

Last updated
Tuesday 17 November 2020

Why this story?

For as long as it has been a subject of study, history has been contested. Who gets to write it? What are the sources? And which stories does it tell?

But, this year, the argument has become less academic – and more public, authentic and impassioned. The tearing down of a statue of Edward Colston by Black Lives Matter protesters in Bristol, England, was a totemic moment, and not just because it left a stony old slave trader in the sea. It left some of our collective presumptions and complacencies about history there, too. The history told in our public squares, our libraries, our classrooms and daily lives is only a narrow sliver of humanity’s story. It is incomplete and inadequate.

Which is why Tortoise is devoting this week, our latest File, to The Future of History. What, we wonder, should history look like in the 21st Century; as a subject of study, but also as an area of action, research, innovation and protest? We have investigated this question in recent ThinkIns, with guests including David Olusoga, Kate Williams, Luke Pepera and Lavinya Stennett. Now’s the time to commit something to the page.

We begin with an essay by Sir Richard Lambert, chair of the board of the British Museum (though he’s writing in a personal capacity), on how our perspective on antiquity will – and should – change in the years ahead. Then a podcast on the Colston statue and what’s happened before and since its removal. Then a range of essays on various parts of our history now and of our history to come; from empire to curricula, from the natural world to the infinite cosmos.

If you’d like to see what’s coming up, please check out the list of essays and authors, below. We’ll be adding links as the week progresses.

Of course, this is not a finished project. The Future of History cannot be written in a week. This latest Tortoise File is, instead, an opening shot – something that we hope to return to in future, guided by experts and by our members. If you have any thoughts on what we publish this week, or any ideas about how we might proceed, please do get in touch with editor@tortoisemedia.com

Peter Hoskin, Editor