Thursday, March 13, 2008

Revisiting the Magna Carta

Remember the Magna Carta from school? If not, don't feel too bad about it because neither do 45% of UK residents according to the poll featured in today's British Library Press Release.

In a nutshell, the Magna Carta is an English legal document from 1215 that is viewed as one of the most important in the history of democracy. It played an invaluable role in the creation of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. One of 4 copies from 1297 has been on display at the National Archives in Washington, DC for the past 20 years. All thanks to the generosity of H. Ross Perot. Then...he put it up for sale.

Fear not, it came back on display yesterday! That's thanks to the generosity of its new owner, David M. Rubenstein. Phew!

If you're not in the DC area, you're not out of luck. You can still look at the copy at the National Archives online here or at the New York Times' site here. The British Library also has some fun ways to view the original online. You can use the Library's Shockwave viewer, or a more simple online version here. Additionally, you can check out the translation here.

For more on the Magna Carta, check out "Magna Carta and Its American Legacy" at the National Archives site and "The Basics" on the British Library site.


Dumpling said...

Ah, I might have remembered it if it was ever something I'd been taught!
We didn't get a lot of history at school unless we specifically chose it as a subject to be progressing to higher qualifications on, so basic history tended to focus on Scottish stuff, like the Highland Clearances, as they only had a short time to teach us it, approximately 6 months in total when I was at school. Also, the restriction of the rights of the monarch didn't apply to Scotland, as we had a different monarchy, and were a separate country until 1707. It wouldn't be included in Scottish history lessons, as it's actually medieval English history. Sort of equivalent to the chances of a Canadian historical document being taught to US students!

The references to it being a British document are a nice soundbite, but not really accurate, as there was no Great Britain until 500 years after the document was signed.

So asking the UK population's a bit deceptive, as the Scots, Irish and Welsh may never have been taught about it in their history classes.
But...I do know what the Magna Carta is! :-)

*off to browse the BL site*

Meg said...
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Meg said...

Wow! I feel extra smart, because I'm American and know what the Magna Carta is. :) I can't remember if it was something mentioned in school at some point, or if I came across it due to Anglophilia and an obsession with Medieval history.

I've seen the copy of it at our National Archives, and I wonder what the percentage of Americans who recognize it is.

Abbie Mulvihill said...
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Abbie Mulvihill said...


Since your comment is attached to my post, I'm guessing it is referencing it. However, it seems to be directed toward some other post. For instance, nowhere in my post did I refer to the Magna Carta as a "British document." Nor would I.

Though certainly not an expert, I am quite familiar with English and Scottish history, as well as their modern government structures. For that reason, I am surprised that you write that the "Scots, (Northern) Irish, and Welsh may never have been taught" about the Magna Carta. What a shame. The document set forth some of the guiding principles for democracy as we know it today. That is why US students study it and why people in the US (as well as many other countries) are so interested in it. It's about rights and liberties.

While I certainly enjoyed reading your comments, I'm not sure that they really relate to this post. I wrote about an important and topical historical legal document and where people can go to see copies in person and online. Thanks for your thoughts.

Dumpling said...

I was referring to the fact that the press release you link to from the British Library states it as being a British document. I know that you didn't say it was British, but the Minister being quoted in the original source is. The statistics are based on that assumption.

It is indeed a shame that so little time is devoted to history at all in our schools, meaning that it's an unsurprising result that few people in the UK can say what the Magna Carta is, or why it's important.