Lessons from history

We’re in the Bahamas. The traditional view from the UK is of sun, sea, sand and luxury, but the Bahamas is much more interesting than that. The islands have been at the crosspoint of much of modern history from colonialism, piracy, slavery, the American War of Independence, the American Civil War and prohibition to anti-colonialism, the drugs industry and much more. I went to school in the Bahamas when I was around 10. We learned nothing of the history of the Bahamas. While geography taught us about the islands, how they were formed, etc, history taught us about the kings and queens of Britain. This was post-independence. History is clearly much more contentious than geography – at least it was back in the day.

Things have changed now, but where there is little knowledge of Bahamian history, or indeed the history of any Caribbean country, is in the UK, the former colonial power. Knowledge of that history would be instructive, particularly at this juncture in time. Understanding the impact and repercussions of empire throughout the world is important. Yet what do we teach in history lessons? An awful lot about World War Two. That is not to say that it is not important to understand World War Two, but the world is much bigger and history infinitely broader than that. Education should be about opening up the world, not narrowing it down.

In the Bahamas, history is very close to the surface. I had never focused on piracy before, but since I last came here tourism has developed a lot and there is now a booming tourism business around the history of piracy in the Caribbean, no doubt in part due to the popularity of The Pirates of the Caribbean. Place names are indicative – there is Treasure Cay, Ragged Island and the like. The islands’ geography has made them the perfect place for pirates and outlaws of all kinds. They lie just off the US mainland and there are hundreds of islands, some of them rocks, which have offered handy hiding places for all sorts. They also lie just north of South America. Hiding wealth has been a big part of the history of this region.

The Bahamas is much more than this, of course. It’s a relatively new independent nation. Its social make-up is complex. But what it isn’t is boring or insignificant. I’ve recently interviewed a lecturer who is doing research on the history of islands, mainly in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. What he had to say about how island history has been on the margins of history was fascinating. The history of islands is absolutely vital to understanding their present, but it is not solely of local interest. We would do well to learn it.

*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk.

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