Nerdy thought time. I spend a lot of my time (too much really) consulting my slightly dusty copy of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and if I’m not at home and I need to know something, I google it and find one of the older editions that’s out of copyright and freely available on the internet.
I love it and hate it in equal measure. Sometimes I’m tricked into thinking that the long entries contain a wealth of information, only then, when I start to dissect it do I realise that it’s very lacking in some information. It’s focus to me (in the tenth and eleventh century at the moment) is mainly with deaths, religious appointments and sometimes, the whereabouts of the King, but not actually ever enough to work out anyone’s itinerary. Yet I love it as well because it can be so terse with information. We do live in an age of information overload, but it’s no new thing. When I studied the Tudors I found the amount of information difficult to digest, and I’ve often thought that’s why I enjoy earlier history so much more. There is less to take in, so I stand more chance of remembering it all, and there’s also a huge scope for interpreting the information differently.
So, with that in mind, I wondered what, if anything, I’d chose to write about today’s society, if I were asked to construct some sort of Chronicle on events in the UK, and it’s not an easy one to answer.
First things first, the population of Anglo-Saxon England was tiny compared to today – I think it’s estimated at about 2 million for England. That means there’s a lot less people to write about for a start in the past than there are today. Another important consideration is that so few people wrote in Anglo-Saxon England, unlike today, and those that did often tended to do so with the weight of God on their side. Somehow it seems to have made the things they wrote down seem more empowered than if Joe Bloggs had been writing a blog.
I have this impression that somewhere in Anglo-Saxon England, a little raft of men sat around a smokey fire at the end of each year and decided what they thought was important (of course this wasn’t the case – the ASC was a retrospective construction that may have contained kernels of knowledge from earlier sources now lost to us, and which, it has been argued, was added to at certain points – maybe twenty years by one scribe, maybe only a few by another). For the men who wrote it, their world was concerned with who was King, who was their Abbot or Bishop, and for about a hundred and fifty years, what the blinking Vikings were up to!
What would we, today, think of as our priorities? Who would get to chose, to decide, who would get a veto if they didn’t like what was put in? Would we care anymore about who was King or Queen, who was born, who died, who travelled where? Would it even be a written record or a selection of images? Where would it be stored? Who would have access to it?
Organisations keep records on people now, on themselves. Newspapers and TV news outlets have a huge amount of information stored away on huge servers, so do big companies, so does everyone really. What would be important? What would people a thousand years from now need to know?
If the world is truly on the brink of a monumental climatic change, then really, a thousand years from now society could be completely different from today’s, that means that historians of the future would need to know everything, down to the price of a pink of milk. But is that what we, as a society, want to be remembered for? Would the wars we’ve fought in the last few centuries be allowed to define us, just as the Viking wars have had such a huge impact on the way Anglo-Saxon England is portrayed now? Either way, what future generations think about UK society in the twenty-first century, it certainly won’t be what we want to be remembered for, no matter how much information is manipulated by government and groups with self-interests. So what would I write down? I don’t know. i might just stick to Kings and Queens, Archbishop and Bishops, Abbots, laws and wars, those who are outlawed, famines, plagues and bad harvests. If the future is as strangely different to today as the Anglo Saxon period is to most people, then really, that might be the only things future generations care about because they’re not going to have our worries and concerns. Society will have moved on (hopefully for the better).