Saturday, August 31, 2002

LONDON Britain’s reputation as a land steeped in an appreciation of history has taken a hit with the publication of an opinion poll on what its masses consider the most important events of the past 100 years.

The top of the list of momentous events in British history excluded both World Wars, the collapse of the British Empire and the rise of the Beatles to stardom.

Instead, Britons said the death of Princess Diana five years ago today was the most significant event.

“This is a pretty shocking result,” said Nick Barrett, historian and consultant to the UK History Channel, a British offshoot of the U.S. cable TV channel, which commissioned the poll.

“How Princess Diana’s death gets rated the most significant event in British history in the past 100 years defeats me. But it shows how the impact of historical events is skewed toward more recent events where people’s personal experiences come into play and particularly if they are recorded as moving images.”

The same phenomenon clearly influenced a question on world history, in which the respondents ranked the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States as more significant than the dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945, or Neil Armstrong’s landing on the moon in 1969.

Age clearly affected the poll, as those with longer memories lent greater significance to more distant events. For instance, while 41 percent of all respondents said the September 11 attacks were the most important event in world history, only 28 percent of those older than 65 thought so.

At the History Channel’s U.S. headquarters in New York, Executive Vice President Abbe Raven said Americans were probably not that different from the British in their attitudes toward history.

“People look at history very much as it relates to their own lives, so more recent events will take on greater personal value,” she said. “Many of the events have moving pictures, which help with recollection.

“I think Americans would move [the assassination of President] Kennedy higher up the list, and the moon walk without question. Nelson Mandela would probably come down a bit, and I think the Oklahoma bombing might well replace the Lockerbie disaster.”

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