Knowledge of history is intrinsic to citizenship says President

Speech by President Michael D Higgins stresses the importance of good history teaching

Knowledge of history is intrinsic to citizenship, President Michael D Higgins said last night as he stressed the importance of good history teaching.

He made his comments when delivering the Michael Littleton memorial lecture at RTÉ on the impact of the 1913 lockout.

His remarks came days after concerns were raised by some teachers that the subject of history was threatened by planned reforms of the Junior Cert programme in schools.

Mr Higgins said that without good history teaching there was no shared idea of a public past.


Empower citizens

“Now, more than ever, with a contemporary crisis and a decade’s commemoration of a fascinating and difficult past, we need to empower all our citizens with an appreciation of how we got to where we are.

“This is not invoking the cliche about learning the lessons of history; rather, it is about seeing history as essential to understanding who we are today and who we might be in the future.”

The President said that to have no knowledge of the past was “to be permanently burdened with a lack of perspective, empathy and wisdom”.

Debunk myths

“Knowledge of history allows us to debunk myths and challenge inaccuracies as well as expose deliberate amnesia or invented versions of the past. It enables us to understand the formation of identity and the significance of diversity, nuance and context.

“It is thus knowledge we can bring to all experiences and walks of life.”

He urged people to consider upcoming commemorations “as an opportunity for utilising the many new resources now available to professional and amateur historians alike”.

“I also encourage our listeners to reflect with empathy and respect on the plight of the working families of Dublin who 100 years ago were courageous participants and victims of the struggle between capital and organised labour now known as the Great Lockout of 1913.”

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent