Patriotism and a country's national narrative go together, for no state and few citizens relish a comprehensive recitation of the nation's mistakes, atrocities and/or failures. The tenor of the story is inevitably a positive retelling of the historical record. People in general and historians in particular understand that historical circumstances do not last forever and change in every era confronts the individual. Our historians, particularly the Victorians, provided an idealized past because, in part, they pondered whether the glories of the English past would prove permanent. Familiar with the rise and fall of classical and medieval empires, for example, they recognized that the British Empire might decline and meet a similar fate. To contemplate the future caused a sense of ‘uncertainty and anxiety’ about what tomorrow might hold. As scholars grounded in the past, they understood that laws of human development, no matter how formulated, could not predict subsequent events in the same sense as the physical or life sciences. The free will of human beings meant that the lessons of history required careful definition and articulation.
Our thesis is that the national history passed from generation to generation, even as the story changes, constitutes an integral part of how the English people view themselves. This identification does not mandate any sort of fundamental agreement, for the past offers a variety of values with which to connect. History (and historians) provide the collective memory for the nation: ‘the archives of human experiences and of the thoughts of past generations’.