This week we have been fortunate to be part of two important anniversaries – the sealing of the Magna Carta by King John on the 11th of June 1215 and the Battle of Waterloo on the 18th of June 1815 where the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon Bonaparte in Belgium.
The History department have done sterling work this week in raising awareness and celebrating with our students the significance of these two historical events - the Great Charter which has had a profound influence on eight centuries of history in England, Britain and the English-speaking world and the Battle of Waterloo which emphatically ended Napoleon’s stranglehold over Europe. The Magna Carta is and has been part and parcel of the history syllabus that is studied in British schools up and down the country – it formed the basis of the democracy, liberty and human rights that we live by today. But I was astonished to learn that the history curriculum in our schools barely touches on the Battle of Waterloo – forgive me, but I am only a mere chemist. The First World War is studied in great depth, and quite rightly so at this time of the centenary. The battlefields of Ypres and the Somme which our students have been fortunate to visit and experience, bring this part of history to life. But thereafter, it is all about Nazi Germany, Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin, particularly Hitler.
Students in schools will have little understanding of 20th-century history and particularly the dictatorships, if they have no idea of literally what happened in the past - Napoleon was the first modern European dictator. I don’t think one cannot understand the modern world without some in-depth knowledge of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. I feel that every school student should be taught about the French Revolution - failing to teach this period is denying our students valuable opportunities to enhance their understanding of the birth of the modern European world – and it is this modern Europe that is now coming under intense scrutiny, from the promised in/out referendum to the austerity measures facing Greece’s very existence in Europe. It is sad that students do not study this rich period in any depth, but I understand the limitations of time and the curriculum. The Battle of Waterloo was one of the most decisive battles of modern history – it was a day of compelling drama where one could not predict the outcome between the warring factions. It is hard to imagine any student not being captivated by the extraordinary events of that day. The battle teaches us about strategy, cooperation and leadership with two of the greatest military commanders in history facing each other: the enigmatic Wellington against the flamboyant Napoleon. Students can learn so much from studying these formidable men. The Battle of Waterloo, and the events leading up to and following it (much like the Magna Carta), warrants study in all schools. It would be a great tragedy if the bicentenary were to pass without this void in our school history provision being filled. I am sure the Duke of Wellington deserves better.