Memory, Forgetting and the English Civil Wars

Ben Wheatley’s ‘A Field in England’ will be screened as part of the Humanities in Public festival.

“The world has turned upside down, Whitehead,” O’Neil says. “And so has its pockets.”

During the conflicts of the 1640’s, the world was turned upside down. England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland were engulfed in a series of conflicts remain the bloodiest set of conflicts on these islands. These were the Civil Wars.

These conflicts impacted subsequent years massively, shaping discussions surrounding civil rights, legal freedom, democracy, female agency, censorship, and religious freedom that resonated throughout the following centuries. However, in the 21st century, 350 years after these events took place, we have very little cultural understanding of where, when, or why these events happened, and this story is at risk of being lost to the depths of time.

This period is often ignored in ‘national’ histories. Teaching of history would rather focus on great kings and queens, than remember a time when England was consumed by bloodshed, religious upheaval, and political radicalism in which 3% of the civilian population lost their lives. It has been dismissed as complicated, embarrassing, too radical, or irrelevant in a nationwide ‘collective forgetting’.

Ben Wheatley’s stunning meditation upon these events, ‘A Field in England’ (2013), depicts these wars in previously unseen ways, bringing to light the destruction, violence and ruin of this period. A story of army deserters turned treasure hunters; Wheatley illustrates the mysticism and confusion of the Civil Wars.

This film will be screened at  Wednesday 14th October in Geoffrey Manton as part of the Humanities in Public War strand. It will be accompanied by talks to explore the complicated ways the nation state has remembered, recollected, and commemorated this ruinous conflict.

Today, how we understand ‘Roundheads and Cavaliers’ has been shaped by ‘collective forgetting’ of the past. British culture is, to some extent, in denial about the debt it owes to republicanism and apocalyptic religion. The film screening will be preceded with a talk from Richard Gough Thomas about how the issues that dominated the period have been manipulated, celebrated, or selectively ignored up to the present day. It will be followed by a discussion and Q&A session with Andrew Moore and Jerome de Groot.

‘Humanities in Public’ is a festival of events surrounding the research we do within the Humanities, Languages and Social Science faculty at Manchester Metropolitan University. Many events are FREE and all events are open to everyone. Find out more and book your place here:

This was also published on the Manchester Metropolitan University website.

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