AN ACHIEVING SOCIETY
DOI link for AN ACHIEVING SOCIETY
AN ACHIEVING SOCIETY book
In 1999 the BBC commissioned a Millennium History of Britain for the Cambridgetrained and now New York-based historian Professor Simon Schama. This took the form of fifteen television programmes, consolidated into three substantial and well-illustrated volumes. By the time the last of these had appeared, in 2001, it was evident that this was an account centred on England, in which Ireland figured episodically, Scotland was unnoticed after the eighteenth century, and Wales scarcely appeared at all. The series was treated sniffily by academic professionals: the Times Literary Supplement gave it a provisional beta double-plus or borderline second class. It went down well in the Home Counties, where as one wit put it ‘history was the new gardening’ but caused controversy in the nations and regions, both because Schama’s qualification for this lucrative enterprise was dubious-he had rarely written on British history-and because the backing of the BBC seemed to give the enterprise an official imprimature: Schama was one of a well-connected group at Cambridge associated with Sir John Plumb, who had worked his way up from Leicester to Christ’s College, and the intimacy of the Rothschilds. Another Plumb protégé, Niall Ferguson, a better-organised and more toothsome version of Schama, launched in 2003 a six-parter on Channel Four called Empire. Ferguson was Scots but defensive about the imperial record, and contemptuous of Scottish home rule: a waste of time and money, it would doom the country to obscurity, and perhaps-in his more histrionic interviews-to a violent outcome. Ferguson added the further qualification that his wife, a former editor of the Daily
Express, was a director of the glossy publishers Condé Nast. He would follow Schama to New York as a ‘trophy professor’ of international financial history.