Saturday, August 26, 2017

Neal Ascherson on Heligoland

Ian Jack and Neal Ascherson are two of my favourite journalists. This is because they are able to bring a historical perspective to the day's events.

Many other celebrated commentators just offer hot takes on those events centered on the interests of the metropolitan professional class.

Ascherson has a piece in the current London Review of Books on Heligoland, a tiny island off the North Sea coast of Germany that was a British colony for almost the whole of the 19th century.

As he says:
Few Britons now know where the place is. Still fewer know that it was once a British colony.
Yet Heligoland's history is fascinating, as is what Ascherson concludes from his review of a book about it:
Jan Rüger argues persistently that there was no real contradiction between the possession of these offshore fragments of Europe and the development of an enormous colonial empire elsewhere. "We are used to thinking of Europe and the British Empire as opposite poles," he writes: 
historians and politicians alike have fostered a narrative in which the empire allowed Britain to disengage from Europe, as if the two were clear-cut opposites … This is very much a 20th-century idea, reflecting, more than anything, Britain’s changed global position after the Second World War. The imperial project was never isolated from Europe, nor did it allow Britons to isolate themselves from Europe. 
Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceWise and relevant words, to be set against shameless Brexiter distortions of history.

1 comment:

Mark Pack said...

The story of how Heligoland ceased being a British colony is also the subject of an excellent earlier book: Attention All Shipping: A Journey Round the Shipping Forecast .