FOMO: the new podcast which doesn’t gloss over the ugly side of British History
The UK's past isn't the neatly packaged narrative we're taught in schools - here's why learning diverse stories is so powerful
words Ranyechi Udemezue
At school, the thorny question, ‘Who are we?’ is one that I would avoid during history lessons. A seemingly innocent line of investigation, it always seemed to churn out the same Eurocentric and heteronormative narrative: Tudors, two world wars, and the English Revolution. Inside most classrooms, the war, imperialism and colonialism that comprise the most harrowing events of British history have all been conveniently swept out of frame.
But why is the story frequently sugar-coated? What are the details purposefully being left out and why? And what other perspectives are brushed under the rug? Whether it’s understanding the legacy of Britain in many parts of the world or the queer struggles which have taken place across the UK, it’s vital that we broaden and decolonise the curriculum to educate our young people on who they really are. And while Wales has already committed to including lessons about Black history in schools and Scotland has introduced classes on queer history, change to the school curriculum in other parts of the UK is proving to be slow.
In the meantime, new podcast FOMO has burst onto the scene, tackling the issue with casual conversation. Across six episodes, the podcast has consulted with historians to bring a fresh look at the issues that don’t make the A-Level syllabus, from media reporting of queer communities and segregated education in Northern Ireland. The best bit? Each episode is hosted by a young person, armoured with wit, personality and pursuit of truth. The podcast is self-validating, providing young people who might have already started to ask questions with evidence of new perspectives. After listening, there is also a list of further resources which can be used as tools to continue the journey towards learning a more nuanced, very real, version of British history.
If you’re looking for where to start, the podcast’s first episode is hosted by 17-year-old Atlanta, a Glaswegian who spent the first few years of her life living in Uganda, where her mum is from. Focussing on uncovering the realities of the British Empire, Atlanta asks the biggest question of all: “Is it possible to know the truth of what happened in the past, or is history different, depending on who’s telling the story?”
To find out more, we caught up with producer Jesse Lawson and Atlanta, who tell us why young people have a fear of missing out on the truth behind British history.
What made you choose the name FOMO?
Jesse: The way that the series came about was through a lot of conversations with people around the fact that the national curriculum doesn't equip us properly with the tools that we need in order to critically engage with Britain's past. We started this series to be another tool in people's toolkits to think about what's happening now, in a more informed way. And also, to kind of think about the fact that history is still storytelling and can have an angle, it's not always objective. I was just trying to think of something that sounded cool, that would be relevant. We’re missing out on being equipped to deal with what's happening in the present, because we're not properly taught about the past.
At what point did you realise that parts of British history aren’t spoken about enough?
Atlanta: I think the first moment of realisation for me was prior to doing the podcast. In a textbook, you’re just taught what is in front of you. I’m a curious person and I’d ask questions but never really get an answer, they just all kind of silently abandoned it and moved on. This podcast allowed me to ask questions so that I, as well as anyone else who is listening, could understand things that they might not know.
Jesse: I used to live in Glasgow, which is where Atlanta lives. When I moved from London to Glasgow, I met a bunch of Scottish and Irish people. We started having conversations about the history we’d learned concerning Great Britain and the United Kingdom. What we’d learned at school was so different and what really struck me was that I had not learned any Scottish or Irish history. The national curriculum first came into being in the 1980s, which is when the Troubles were happening. That feels to me like a really intentional political choice, to not include learning about the Troubles or Irish independence and England's colonisation of Ireland. I also had some amazing teachers at university who did a really good job of being like, 'it's not about knowing everything, it's about your approach to knowledge'. That was the first time that I felt that I was taught that it's okay to question things.
How did you settle on the chronology of the episodes?
Jesse: We wanted to have six episodes that are representative of six different parts of British history. We intentionally put Atlanta’s episode first, as she questions who's telling the story and what it means. It set the precedent to our listeners that everything we're thinking about surrounds questions such as ‘where's the power in storytelling?’ which I thought Atlanta did really well.
Why is it important for young people to fight back and continue uncovering history that may have been hidden from them?
Atlanta: It can give us a sense of confidence in ourselves, as well as the confidence to be able to ask questions. I feel like if we get more confidence to ask, the more we'll know and the more our knowledge will expand. It will just feel like a better environment for a lot of us, a better society to live in. Somewhere where you're not going to be scared to ask questions about something that happened in the past, just because people don't want you to be talking about it.
Jesse: I actually think that it’s everyone [not just young people]. That's something that I find difficult about the Britain that we live in now, a lot of what's happening is either designed to make us apathetic or disengaged. There’s little evidence that anyone in power cares about us and it can feel like there's nothing we can do about that, which is really hard and scary. Anything we can do to counter that is really important. There’s also a real energy at the moment and people are questioning what communities and lives we want to build. If this podcast can be a small part of helping people get there then that would be a huge thing for us.
What advice do you have for young people who want to continue their journey in learning more about British History?
Jesse: Listen to FOMO and look at our resources! This kind of learning is already happening in communities all over the UK. People are already doing it. What do you care about? Get involved in local community activism! Speak to your parents, speak to your friends, talk to people of other generations who’ve lived through stuff, do your own research and ask for help when you need it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Listen to the FOMO podcast here.
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