Focus on history: The case for popularisation

July 11, 2003

Tristram Hunt, lecturer at Queen Mary, University of London, and presenter of English Civil War series on BBC2

"It is enormously important for history to play a role in the media, partly because it encourages people to study history. The reaction I get from parents who tell me their children saw my programme and now want to study history is very positive. But there is also a broader point about the interaction between history and culture and politics. One of the best mediums of generating that debate is through the media.

"There is still a substantial residual opposition to popular history. Roy Foster at (the University of) Oxford said the general reader for academics is like the stray neighbourhood cat: no one wants to look after it. That is appalling. The general reader is wonderful.

"If I wanted a doctrinaire academic career I'd be in trouble, but I'm interested in generating public debate about history. It's up to each individual. The people who get the respect of their peers through the groundbreaking article are essential, but they shouldn't be sniffy about those who go out there to try to generate public debate."

Anne Goldgar, lecturer in history at King's College London

"I can't always approve of the type of history that is popularised, because a lot of it is 20th-century history about the wars. The kinds of programmes appearing on television are not the kinds of history historians really do, but it is a start.

"Anything that will introduce people to history has to be a good thing. I am writing a book for the commercial press that I hope will sell to people who are not academics."

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