IT is one of the big questions of our time, whether we should judge historical figures by the morals of today?
So it was the perfect topic for the Great Debate – a challenge set for 16 to 19-year-olds by the Historical Association.
Emily Bull, a student at Priestley College, was one of 10 to take part in the regional heat of the debating competition and her first decision was which historical figures to focus on in her five-minute talk.
“I was trying to look at examples other people wouldn’t have picked so I chose Edward Jenner, Henry VIII, Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela,” said former Sir Thomas Boteler pupil Emily.
“I could have talked for longer than five minutes, but with the help of my tutor, Oliver, we managed to get it down to just under that for my talk.”
Emily decided to take part just a week before the event after hearing about it through Priestley’s History Society.
The actions of her four choices could all be considered immoral by today’s attitudes.
Jenner tested vaccines on children, Henry VIII executed two of his wives and some would argue Malcom X and Mandela committed acts of terror.
Emily’s conclusion was that historical characters shouldn’t be judged by the moral standards of today as it can remove suitable contextual understanding that is needed for the judgement to be relevant.
However, she also said that we can gain insight through judging historical figures by today’s standards as we’re able to see a shift in mindset over time due to continuously changing moral standards.
The Great Debate was held at Upton Hall Grammar School for Girls and each speaker stood in front of the other debaters, their tutors and two judges.
Although she did not win, it was a boost to her confidence and Emily hopes to do more public speaking in preparation for a career in teaching.
Her A-Levels in English Language and Literature, Maths, History and Religious Studies should also help her prepare for the future.
“I think the combination of subjects I’ve been able to choose will really help me as I aim to go into teaching,” said Emily.