Thursday, February 05, 2009

A Bit Too Much History

I have always been fond of "bitty history". To celebrate the end of the twentieth century, the BBC commissioned a long-running radio series called "This Sceptred Isle" which, by means of 216 daily 15 minute episodes, told the story of Britain from Roman times to the death of Queen Victoria. The format suited the task wonderfully and suddenly history became as digestible as a fresh chocolate eclair. Spurred on by the success of the series the BBC followed it with "This Sceptred Isle - the Twentieth Century" which, by means of a further 100 episodes, brought the story up to date. Next they came up with "This Sceptred Isle - Empire" which attempted to tell the story of the British Empire in a similar way, but which - for me - never quite worked. That bitty chronological approach which worked so well with a coherent whole such as the British Isles, did not work with something as complex and multi-faceted as the British Empire. 
More recently the BBC has launched "America : Empire of Liberty" which will tell the history of the United States in 90 15 minute episodes. As I write the series has just dealt with the Civil War, and - based on the first forty episodes - the series marks a return to the form of "This Sceptred Isle". But whilst gaining my daily fix of "Empire of Liberty", I have also been listening to another BBC offering (this one from BBC Radio Ulster) : a programme with the extraordinary title of "A Short History of Ireland in 240 Episodes". 
I have to say that I have really tried with "A Short History", listening to the first fifteen or twenty episodes and trying to remember the difference between the late Celts and the early Vikings, and the significance of Brian Boru and the Battle of Clontarf. But the more I listen, the more my head spins and the more I forget. At the moment it is a "Bit Too Far", so perhaps I will put it aside until after I have got America out of the way.

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