This paper evaluates the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games as an exercise in public history. Public events have been widely identified within the study of nationalism as festivals that attempt to reinforce national identity and belonging. Contemporary Olympic Games figure in this literature as a specific form of event where the nature and content of a host state's identity is displayed for the global gaze of other nations. While opening ceremonies perform a rich display of national identity in any case, London 2012 is particularly significant for taking place at a time of major political contestation in the United Kingdom and has frequently been interpreted as an expression of radical patriotism. Traces of such patriotic thought associated particularly with England can be found in the opening ceremony's historical pageant and overall concept, showing resonances with the work of Raphael Samuel, who argued for a radical patriotism grounded in a multiplicity of accounts of the national past from many social positions. Depicting the nation through a multiplicity of biographical narratives produces a ‘mosaic' mode of representation which can be seen in other documentary and public history projects and in the political context of British public multiculturalism in the 2000s. This responds to the need for any national narrative to be composed through compressing the lives of millions of people into one coherent story, but complicates attempts to read a text such as the opening ceremony for what they ‘really' mean. A model for understanding narratives of the past as being produced in interaction between their initial creator(s) and their reader(s) is necessary for understanding not only the London 2012 opening ceremony in particular but public history and narratives of the national past in general.
Baker, C. (2015). Beyond the island story? the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games as public history. Rethinking History, 19(3), 409-428. https://doi.org/10.1080/13642529.2014.909674