Historenfreude: My All-New, All-Made-Up, Favourite Word


Line breaks: Hist|oren|freude


[Mass Noun]

The pained pleasure derived from someone with a good knowledge of history exposed to an inaccurate portrayal of the past in the media, film, tv or literature.


‘She felt an immense sense of Historenfreude as she read Philippa Gregory’s ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ ‘

‘With a quiver of delightful Historenfreude she jotted down all the inaccuracies in ‘New Worlds’; she had studied seventeenth-century English America for a year at University.’

Lesley Knope

Why can’t they just see that an accurate portrayal is drama enough?


Herione with a Hatchet? The Strange Story of the Statue of Hannah Duston of Haverhill

Hannah Duston's statue in Haverhill, Massachusetts.

Hannah Duston’s statue in Haverhill, Massachusetts.

Surrounded all around by a sea of freshly manicured green grass and the shade of mature trees, there stands a statue in complete contrast to the pastoral scene around her.  Her large and muscular frame, enmeshed in a metallic interpretation of Puritan dress, gives the impression of a lady not to be messed with. Her square-jawed face is locked into an expression of determination, whilst her eyes blaze with the fire of a warrior Queen. This is no Hester Prynne depicted – no weaker vessel woman – but a veritable seventeenth-century Boudicca. The viewer seeing her powerful stance may be reminded of Lady Liberty, yet that is no beacon of welcome in Hannah’s hand. In her grip lies a tomahawk. A tomahawk which should have been depicted covered in gore from the massacre and scalping of  a Native American family. Two women, two men and six children died at her hand. She received £50 from the General Court at Boston for her bloody harvest of scalps.

Hannah Duston’s tale lies in the murky melee of Anglo-Indian relations in the latter half of the seventeenth-century.  In the age old cycle of colonisation, traceable across the American colonies, by the time of Hannah’s capture the image of the Indian had been transformed from a pliable would-be converso to a murderous quasi-demon. Competition over resources, trade and territory shifted the attitude toward native Americans from patronisation to out and out violence and distrust. By King Philip’s War, named for the English predeliction to anglicise native names, the common people of Boston were so full of ‘animosity and rage’ toward the Indian they had set out to convert, that four hundred westernised ‘friendly’ Indians were rounded up. They were marooned upon Deer Island in Boston Harbor to face the harsh winter unprotected. Their having accepted Christianity provided them no mercy from the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay. Chalk and Johassohn’s The History and Sociology of Genocide has gone so far as to argue the treatment of the Indian in this period as an early historical example of ethnic cleansing.

It was in 1697, five years after the infamous Salem witchtrials. that Hannah, her husband and children where set upon by Abenaki Indians. Her tale of woe, the murder of members of her family and kidnap was quickly seized upon by Cotton Mather in his Decennium Luctuosum and Magnalia Christi Americana. Her tale, in a similar vein to Mary Rowlandson’s, fits into a wider genre of captivity narrative popularised in the period. Despite the odd reference to the ingenuity of the Indians oneness with nature, her tale fuses turmoil and suffering in the wilderness at the hands of a Devilish band of Indians with the ideas of religious awakening central to Puritan ideology. Her massacre of her capturers therefore portrayed through religious imagery as justified and Godly.

Such accounts of Hannah have led to her ascension to the great hall of (white) American heroines, a testament to this is of course her statues in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire. A brief Google of either the name Hannah Duston or Dustan will fill your browser with a variety of webpages claiming her proudly as kin or pronouncing this ‘crazy hardass’ as ‘badass of the week‘. You can buy a bobblehead of her clutching a plastic tomahawk, grab a tee with her face on it and if you are taken sick in Haverhill visit the Hannah Duston Memorial Medical Centre (let’s hope you haven’t got a head injury – boom, boom!). Her tale has been mythologised and boiled down to a mother’s revenge against an agressor who had killed her children (pshhh Historians haven’t even agreed on whether puritans/early modern peoples loved their kids anyhoozles!) Yet such mythologising is short-sighted and injurious. Let us not forget that the colonists were as much to blame for the violent Anglo-Indian tensions of the five decades after their arrival; that a once thriving way of life was lost via those upheavals to penury, disease, starvation and reservation. Should Hannah Duston really have a statue?

‘Checking Out Me History’, My Muddled Thoughts on History in the Classroom.

Today I had the joy of stumbling upon a brilliant poem by John Agard whilst working my day job as an English TA. The poem not only stroked my history grad ego (it’s always nice to look at a piece of literature and know a little about the figures mentioned) but also captures in its essence why I believe that everyone should know their history. Before I prattle on too much here is the poem read out by the man himself:

Why have I suddenly fallen for this piece? There’s a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s because this poem relates directly into a debate that’s been rumbling on for a while now. What subjects do we pick for the history curriculum in the post-colonial world? Mary Seacole was recently threatened with deletion from the primary school curriculum. Soon after Benjamin Zephaniah talked openly of black student’s being turned off by history. In a tit-for-tat atack Chris McGovern (head of the H.A.) claimed students and parents are bored of ‘slavery’ and ‘deprivation.’ The black parents he had talked to in Lewisham he said would prefer a more ‘Old Etonian’ view of the past. I, white girl that I am, live a couple of postcodes over from Lewisham and you may have guessed side with Zephaniah. The first suggestion for my Black History Month Film Club this October? Roots. The first topics the kids in my after school history club suggested studying? Racism, civil rights and colonisation. There were no calls for ‘Hitler and the Henrys’ in Camberwell.

'Rewriting History' Ross Asquith, guardian.co.uk 14th January 2013

‘Rewriting History’ Ross Asquith, guardian.co.uk 14th January 2013

This brings me onto why I love the poem. In fact one single anecdote will explain it. One student, who usually sits at the back of the class, on hearing the name ‘Nanny de Maroon’ was overtaken by visible pride. Her hand shook violently above her head before she burst out ‘…SHE WAS HALF GHANAIAN HALF JAMAICAN LIKE ME!’ This outburst was followed by another student incitefully proclaiming that we learn about Nelson and not Shaka the Zulu because the Zulu’s were once the enemy. This poem triggered not only some great language analysis but historical insights. It took me until 18 to realise I’d never learnt Irish history, even though we live in Britain, because there are aspects of it that make the English look really bad (Croke Park, 1916 anyone?) These girls are two years ahead of me!

In 2009, I attended a debate upon the subject of the curriculum and colonialism filled with experts and it got heated. One panellist’s cries of differentiating the curriculum to each child’s individual experience was met with a collective round of sighs. Don’t teachers have enough to do without catering to 30 kids respective backgrounds? Another panellist retorted. I don’t profess to have any answers. What I do know is that the idea of reducing the National Curriculum to Kings and Queens and key white, English figures is a disservice not only to BME students, but to us all. In John’s case in researching black history he found figures symbolic of pride, bravery in the face of adversity, intelligence and defiance. Such figures prove you can make something of yourself, rise from nothing and fight through adversity. Learning solely about Nelson and Waterloo? Dick Whittington? Henry VIII? To me that says kids, if you want to get anywhere, you best be born above middle class and white. In an increasingly multicultural society, is this the curriculum we want?   That year eleven class’ reaction today was a testament to how powerful learning about your history, learning about your people’s story can be. If it is impossible to diversify the historical curriculum, I hope at least we take time to encourage pupils to research their heritage in their own time. I currently do that after school.


John Agard, ‘Checking Out Me History’, AQA Moon on the Tides AnthologyYoutube

Teachers TV Televised Debate, ‘Multicultural Britain and the National Curriculum’ (Winter, 2009)

Hannah Richards, ‘Zephaniah Warns “Black Children Turned Off By History” ‘, BBC News (October, 2012)

Related Links:

Miranda Kaufman, specialist on the African inhabitants of the Early Modern Western World.

Black History Month UK