When I told one of my cousins here in England that my 17-year-old daughter Katie had to study American history for a year in order to graduate from high school in America, she said, “Can’t she learn it in an afternoon?”
Funny, and also maddening, because America does have a lot of history, especially in the last 250 years–it’s just that the British have more, going back millenia.
Katie has been studying English history at her Sixth Form College in Cambridge. She’s doing the Tudors, the most famous of whom are Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, except her course concerns the years 1445 to 1547, so it cuts out almost all of Elizabeth. But still, much remains.
During the hundred years from the mid-1450s to the mid-1550s, there were kings and queens galore: Henry VI, Edward IV, Richard III, Henry VII, and Henry VIII; their queens Margaret of Anjou, Elizabeth Woodville (mother of the two little princes murdered in the Tower of London), Anne Neville, Elizabeth of York, and of course Henry VIII’s unfortunate wives, Catherine of Aragon, Ann Boleyn, Lady Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Kathryn Howard, and Katherine Parr, not to mention major religious upheavals with the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the English Reformation, and the War of the Roses.
American history doesn’t really get going in a big way until the late 1700s with the American Revolution. From 1445 to 1547, US history consisted of European explorers “discovering” parts of America (which were well-known by the Native Americans who were already there).
But, while the span of English history dwarfs the span of America’s history, there are many older civilizations. As one of my former bosses said to me about his Jewish heritage, “My people were creating culture while your people were running around with blue faces.”
He was referring to the Ancient Britons who put blue paint–woad–on their faces before going into battle. There was really nothing I could say in response.
There is no doubt that England has many more years of known history than the US but, as my nine-year-old Meg says, at least we [the Americans] beat you [the British] in the American Revolution.
And, as American high school students can attest, there is definitely enough American history to take up a full year!