Wilton History Festival: the Countess of Pembroke and her circle

Just a brief post to say I will be speaking at Wilton History Festival on 17 September about the literary circle around Mary Sidney and the power of patronage. For those who don't know, Mary Sidney was the younger sister Philip Sidney and is the Countess of Pembroke for whom he wrote the Arcadia. However, … Continue reading Wilton History Festival: the Countess of Pembroke and her circle

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Me and Debbie McGee – or, Life and Death in West Ruislip

I know what you’re thinking. What does Debbie McGee, diminutive relict of the late pint-sized prestidigitator Paul Daniels, have to do with anything? And, more specifically, what does she have to do with me? Just a few weeks ago, I’d have wondered the same thing. And then she turned up at the auction of my … Continue reading Me and Debbie McGee – or, Life and Death in West Ruislip

Re-mapping the world: grief and its aftermath

I want to think of it like this: that learning to live with death is the last gift our parents have for us. When we were spring, they were already summer. Now their year is over we can see the full extent of life's horizon before us for the first time. We have a chance … Continue reading Re-mapping the world: grief and its aftermath

The library of lost conversation

My father died in May, seven years after my mother. We are slowly emptying the house the two of them lived in together since the autumn of 1966, a couple of months after I was born. The house contains my childhood, of course, and those of my older brother and sisters – but mostly now … Continue reading The library of lost conversation

Between fact and fiction

This article first appeared in the January 2016 issue of History Today. What does it mean to write history today? What claims can historians make about their work? These are just two of the questions that sprang to mind after listening to Niall Ferguson tussle with the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley on Radio 4’s Start … Continue reading Between fact and fiction

Safe spaces and comfort zones

This piece first appeared in the July 2015 issue of History Today. While I still think this makes some good points, on the whole it feels a good deal more ancien regime than I intended it to be, and fails to address some important aspects of the debate. Rachel Moss wrote a blog post in … Continue reading Safe spaces and comfort zones

Humanities without humanity

This article first appeared in the November 2015 issue of History Today. The British government’s vision for university funding – as outlined by Jo Johnson, minister for universities and science – seems both promising and alarming. That it seeks to elevate teaching to the same level of importance as research is to be welcomed. But to do … Continue reading Humanities without humanity