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Nelson a fact of our history


Nelson a fact of our history

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TREVOR MARSHALL has dismissed Dr Frances Chandler as “out of her depth” because in a recent column (April 12 MIDWEEK NATION), she had the temerity to pen two sentences on Nelson in the context of Barbadian place names being changed unnecessarily.

Dr Chandler, who doesn’t profess to be a historian, suggested that Nelson has become a “part of our history” by reason of his column, still there to see, being erected by his fans over 200 years ago in what we once knew as Trafalgar Square. At first glance, this seems pretty unexceptional stuff and actually a matter of common sense.

For Mr Marshall, however, it won’t do, and his implication is that Dr Chandler had no business saying anything about Nelson which fails to square with his personal narrative. She wasn’t doing “real Bajan history”, he says. Even if they happen to be “white”, only “real” historians, “serious” historians, historians supported by “all researchers” and “serious scholars” can do history.

Now it’s obvious that Mr Marshall doesn’t like Nelson. But then why should he? It’s uncertain whether Dr Chandler likes him either. Mr Marshall says that Nelson had no substantial or real connection with Barbados, and he’s probably right. But then I don’t see any contrary suggestion in Dr Chandler’s
two sentences.

Yet, was she being “historical”, making a historical remark? In fact, what is it to state a historical “fact” and do history? It would be interesting to hear Mr Marshall on that one. In particular, are there any overriding rules, rules like “you mustn’t read the past with the eyes of the present”, or “you mustn’t apply to the past, consciously and deliberately, your own mindset, your prejudices and sense of grievance, to produce a political tract, mere propaganda, or tasteless moralising”? Does Mr Marshall breach either of those?

Now with great respect to Mr Marshall, surely common sense tells us that Nelson on his column, like a “brooding omnipresence in the sky”, is a fact of Barbadian history and so also a “part” of it. It’s not a fact like “Caesar crossed the Rubicon” because that “fact” has no contemporary power. We experience Nelson with our eyes.

Moreover, let me suggest that the more we argue about him in this way, the more he will, like the forms of action, continue to “rule us from his grave”.