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            Prelude: how we got here

            Having spent three years with the History Group looking at the rise of the modern
            world I knew it was time for a change. So, I thought, something on British history,
            ancient times. But what should be the unifying theme? This only came along
            gradually and by accident.

            The trigger was a quote in a book about the Norman Conquest suggesting that the

            attempted invasion of England in 1066 by the Viking King of Norway, Harald
            Hardrada, was both the end of the Vikings and also the last wave of the Barbarian
            invasions that had destroyed the Roman Empire over 500 years earlier. Here was a
            bit of connectedness I hadn’t come across before. Around the time of the Brexit
            referendum, I had come across a book about Britain and Europe which, although
            written by a Eurosceptic historian, Brendan Simms, emphasized how strongly Europe
            had influenced British history. This reminded me about another book I’d read back in
            1973 - the year we’d joined the EEC - about Britain and Europe by Paul Johnson called
            The Offshore Islanders, a title so good I nearly stole it for these sessions.

            Combining all this together I came up with the idea of a topic based on early Britain’s
            connectedness with its geographical neighbours, i.e. Europe, Rome and Scandinavia.
            Then I realised how this fitted in with the whole Brexit debate and “taking back
            control” because it began to look to me as if certainly in our early history we’d often
            come under the control of others – Romans, Angles and Saxons, Vikings, Normans.

            Since this seemed to be partly about sovereignty and power, the word geopolitics
            swam into view. Could this be the unifying theme of British history?

            Geopolitics was used by Simms and others to explain how the creation of the British
            nation took place in the face of external threats, such as the Vikings. According to
            Klaus Dodd, modern ”critical” geopolitics is about “making and remaking national
            identities” which is a “dynamic, creative, iterative and repetitive process.”
            (Geopolitics, 2019). This sounds like a good description of pre-1066 British history,

            with all its ebbs and flows.

            Other books pushed me in a similar direction. Robert Winder’s The Last Wolf, about
            the roots of Englishness, stressed the importance of England’s geography, things like
            rainfall, rivers, soil and coal. This geographical slant was reinforced by a brand-new
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