I have an interest in propaganda. This blog is a dive into early medieval times where its power had a particularly enduring effect: in the establishment of written law in the place now known as England. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a cornerstone of English history, yet it is rarely acknowledged that this document was started by one man – King Alfred. And he had a serious interest in its purpose as another weapon in his struggle against the Danes. And he was no beginner in the arts of persuasion and written propaganda – they had been practised since at least Greek times, and more recently among the Carolingian Emperors.
However, recent linguistic research into the Alfred-Guthrum treaty gives the lie to much that is written (or implied) in the Chronicle. And recent archaeological, anthropological and detectorist findings are revealing that it is highly questionable that Alfred crushed the Danes at Ethandune – for the Danelaw was as big and as rich as the land Alfred claimed.
Unfortunately the misreading of truth in historical documents still plagues us, even in this post-modern twenty-first century, and no-one should be intimidated by academic or professional pomposity that stifles healthy questioning. A book to read is Keith Jenkins’s Rethinking History published in 1991 which took the lid off the naivety of the historiographers and archaeologists. Another interesting publication was the 2011 publication by English Heritage of their research digest A Look in the Rear View Mirror – Twentieth Century Road Building and the Development of Professional Archaeology which showed the link between highway construction and archaeology, with the number of employed archaeologists rising from a few hundred in 1971 to over 6000 in the following 30 years.
Returning to my propaganda theme, the respectable study of advertising (and therefore propaganda) has only been recognised in the last 100 years. The popular book Decoding Advertisements by Judith Williamson was published in 1978. Yet, even since then, we continue to be saturated in fictional nonsense about the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ which might be entertaining froth, but certainly isn’t the truth.