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Intervention: Being British

Authors:
  • Landward Research Ltd
o
I
Being
British
by Kenneth Aitchison, Head of Professional
Developm€nt at the Institute of Field Archaeologists.
He writes here in a personal
capacity.
Gordon Brown ikes to ta k about 'Brltishness'
and its
rmportance
n contemporary
soclety. His interest
in
Britishness
is very definltely
not founded
on chauvinistic
be efs
that British
people
are in
some way
prvieged
and
unlque,
or that we are better
than others, but tn
that t can
.upoo-f
rqe one denlr_,-La.e'eyone'\ngi. o'
connected
to this couniry shares.
The
imporiant thing
about Britlshness
is thar rr s nor
a
nationa identity, t is
a civic one. However
we choose
to
defne and identfiT ourse
ves ndividua y,whetheronthe
basis ofwhere we feelwe and our peop e are from
- say,
whether
we think of ourse ves
as being
Scotusr, or as
being Fifers
- or on the
bas s ofwhat we
think and feel
as soc alists, historians,
or even as Ralth Rovers
supporters
the one thing we al have
in common is
Brlta n.
Thls is not about
sorneth ng called
patriotlsm,
tt is
not
about flags, imper
al anthems or
parochial
laments,
but it
is about regeneratng
a shared sense
ofcommunity
and
be onging.
And in
developing this idea,
the Prlme Nlinister
made
extensive
reference to the history
of Brlta n but very
deliberately
not by either
gloflt ng and romantictsing
the
past
nor
by apologlsing or
be ng shamefaced
about what
has
gone before. Instead, the past
has been referenced
by
recognising
that it is the one
thing thai we have
all been
formed
by. t has been the actions
of our prectecessors
that have
shaped the places
where
we live and
work,
meaning
that the historic and inhabited
environrneni
that
makes
up our physical
surroLrndings
continues
to be
important
even ifthe lnstitlrtlons
and attitudes
that lnitia ly
created it have ong faded away.
As peop e make
histofy
and
places,
so places
and h story
make
people.
lnlkspoiit.d d, .*on the,o, ^,orrisro,l
environment
prolessiona
s have not been heard. Way
back
in 2001, English Heritage published'The
Power
of Piace',
which set outthlnking
along these very
ines
- ihe historic
env ronment has the
potentialto
strengthef
the sense
of
comrnunity and
provide
a so id basis for neignoournooo
renewal.
This is the power
of p ace
- but since then we
have
foc!ssed too much
on the details
of po icy and
frameworks
of practice,
and not looked
up at ihe bigger
politica plciure.
We, as
professiona
s working wth and within
the historic
envrronrnent, need
to stop being impaftial
and
technical;
we are not dis
nterested
technicians,
we are comm tted
prolessiona
s. We need to remernbef
that our work is
ultimate
y for the pub lc beneflt,
as
we are stewarding anc
managing change
to a fragile and irrep
aceabte
env ronmental resource
that is formed
by the physlca
traces of past
lives
and activiiies, and
so we must
recognlse and
commit to the value
of our work as helping
to,Looor and
stre
9,--n ,ha'.d
ide . t:e,
As our professiona
environment
becomes more
integrated,
our deve oping unity wil be our strength,
r' rFdci-g
ou ,hd
-d dbiliv
to - l-en,
. "nd .uppon
po tics,
polcy
and socia change
lcon has been
an
exemplar
body for a I who work with
the historic
environment,
br nging thousands
of professionals
togethe.
under one
comffion root. We are moving on from
the da\.
when we presented
o!rselves
to the rest ofthe world
as
being
petty
and dlvided,
precious
y
fghting turf wars
ove.
matters that were
ol no consequence
to anyone outside
our charmed
circles although, for now,
there are stil
some ihat wlll not parlicipate,
and
choose to fo low their
own, non-panicipatory paths.
These
se f centred and
se
{
serving indivlduals
will flnd themse ves
increasingly
sideiined and irrelevant
as our professiona
structures
transform, update
and evolve to address the needs ot ou'
workplaces and of ensur ng the pub lc benefits from oLrr
Britain is,
and always has
been, a plura
lstic soctety, with
many
different histories
created by individuals,
groups
ar.
socleties.
We each adopt
or inherii our many identities,
but the one that we al can share is the British identlty,
allowing
our m!lticu tural
divers;ty to remain
a svength,
while the
separateness that is
a weakness diminlshes. Th.:
shared British
identity is founded
upon a cornmon
Britlsh
past,
and we historic environment
professionats
are the
expefts who interpret and
deliver understandings
ofthat
We can be proud
of our work. As it contributes to the
public's
engagement
wth the past,
so we are he
ping to
reduce
social divlsion
as
people
feel lncreasingly
able ro
share commltment
to Britain's
past, present
and iuture.
kenn€th.aitchbon@ar<haeologists.net
52
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