Sweffling: a meeting
place of Kemps and Smyths
Remains of the past are all around us:
we connect with recent times through the
passage of our own lives and those of our parents and grandparents. The past is
constantly used as a reference point by politicians and others; and the past is a
fascinating other world that many wish to explore. Yet, we also live at a time when
the past seems to be under threat from the headlong rush towards a modern future.
We now live in a new millennium whose watch words are modernisation and
change. Those who study the past need to restate its importance for future
Enthusiasm for the past is unabated, with
direct involvement of ordinary people in
history or archaeology, and through researching family or local history Television
programmes like 'Time Team', 'Meet the Ancestors', 'Journeys to the Bottom of
the Sea' or 'Talking Landscapes' regularly attract audiences of more than 3 million.
The highly publicised programme 'Son of God' attracted over 6 million for its first
episode. A poll carried out last year revealed that 98% of people thought that
heritage was important for teaching children about the past, while 85% of people
thought that heritage played a valuable role in the life of the country. Politicians
would sell their souls for support like that!
As the great archaeologist Sir Mortimer
Wheeler noted in 1954, ‘the archaeological
excavator is not digging up things, he is digging up people’. Modern
archaeologists seek to understand human behaviour: how it varies from place to
place and how it changes over time. If we rephrase archaeology as meetings with
people and places in the past, we can make a very important reference to its
contribution to the present.
The political agenda of the twenty-first
century has come to be articulated through
the idea of quality of life, encompassing such matters as social inclusion,
environmental protection and sustainable development; all fundamentally matters of
people and place in the present and future. In many ways the history of humanity
has been based on the common
drive of families that hope to live in a just and
stable society which ensures peaceful reproduction and the social security of all
persons, the employed, the unemployed and minorities. Our place in the past has
therefore a great deal of relevance for today’s society. It is a mediator between
present and future. The political drive to modernise is always taken with one eye
looking backwards. Just as the future of archaeology lies with the public, so the
future of the public partly lies with the past.
Family histories offer more than purely
a rich source of historical information,
providing insight into life as it was once lived and breathed. They have the power to
deepen our experience of being alive. Compared to days of old, we live now quite
an isolated existence, distanced from each other physically by the erosion of village
living as well as emotionally by a culture that celebrates individuality above
community, youth above aging and material wealth above spiritual growth. Once
upon a time telling stories about ancestors played such a profound role in peoples'
lives, connecting them to each other and the past. They educated people with
lessons learned by those before them and they nurtured an appreciation of family
with stories of ancestors. They nourished individuals with a strong sense of
belonging and identity and they ensured that elders, as the keepers of history, were
respected as knowledgeable and wise leaders of the community. To reclaim the
custom of telling about ancestors among families offers individuals a chance to
recapture all this.
Learning and discussing the place of modern
families in the wider scheme of world
history is valuable for people to understand present world events and for them to be
able to interact across diverse cultural groups. It was at the beginning of the 1990s
when the teaching of history of foster nationalism and suspicion of other nations
began to be replaced by a curriculum that encompasses the whole of humanity.
The focus shifted towards cross- cultural objectives such the acquisition of tools for
analysing past and present human societies-and not on the creation of collective
identities. The aim is to make being part of a global multicultural world to be
enjoyable and stimulating.