History, Identity and Independence: Children’s Time-travel to Roman Britain
British writing has often pondered the question of which areas of history have had the most impact on modern national identity and over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries a dialogue about the influences of the Romans and the Celts developed which then spilled over into modern fiction. By looking at some examples of the way that “natives” and Romans are compared and contrasted in children’s literature this paper hopes to open up ideas about the way that specific qualities and ideals are both associated with specific peoples and are also brought together as exemplars for the modern Briton. I am particularly interested in how authors negotiate and marry the issues of “conquest vs. independence” with a desire to inherit both the Roman influenced intellectual developments of democracy and philosophy and the ideals of creativity and pastoral innocence allegedly embodied in the Celts. By looking at examples that focus on modern children travelling through time this paper aims to investigate how authors have called their reader’s attention to similarities and differences between ancient and contemporary societies and the way that the cultures are evoked within the novels. In this way I hope to demonstrate that Roman Britain was not only a key part of our conception of the major parts of British history but also a useful tool for discussing ideas about Empire and ‘multi-culturalism’.
I enjoyed reading this analysis of the variety of types of Roman imperial structure that affected non-central regions and changed their lifestyles. It is a clear introduction to some of the main processes of “Romanisation” even if it perhaps left the idea of the complexity of interactions and variety of responses in different regions for later exploration.
As a non-archaeologist I am particularly fascinated by the intersection of the material evidence and our literary perceptions and as a non-pure historian I like to look at why ‘facts’ can be misleading.
Having been working on popular concepts of Roman Britain, the debate surrounding the meaning of Romanisation and the reciprocity of impact is one that has a great deal of relevance to fictional presentations of people’s experience of conquest. In fact I think that literature and TV have been encouraging their audiences to look at the relationship between centre and periphery and individual experiences of cultural change for a long time and began to suggest that there was a great deal of potential for interplay a long time ago.
In particular I have noticed that a key source of tension in historical novels of Roman Britain is the level to which Roman customs could/should be adopted by locals and what benefits of economic/legal ties with the centre bring. Writers have clearly picked up on a tricky question for historians and archaeologists and in doing so they suggest ways to approach the effects of Romanisation on communities…