Meet Britain's young new historians





What does history mean to you? Dusty tweed in ivory towers, perhaps, or a man of a certain age, with a slightly funny voice, being both caustic and informative on television? Does it mean tramping around a site of historical interest on a wet afternoon? Or, at best, a weighty tome read by an open fire.

Today's schoolchildren do not leap at the chance to study history - in fact, it's no longer even a core subject. The Conservative education spokesman, Michael Gove, says that history has been dying out in Britain's schools in the last decade - and it's true that the percentage of pupils taking GCSEs in the subject has fallen. But that might be about to change because history is becoming cool and the fightback is being spearheaded by a group of young, fashionable writers.

They have been an actor, an artist and a TV presenter, are aged between 25 and 35 and they all have book contracts. One wrote his account of the year 1381 in a corner of the trendy London members' club, Soho House, during leave from his day job at a men's magazine. And rather than being looked down upon by the old guard, they are highly regarded by the academic establishment: David Starkey is considered a mentor by two of them; Simon Sebag Montefiore by others.

"They have brilliant new ideas, excellent writing and they're exceptionally clever," says Georgina Capel of the literary agency Capel & Land, who represents established historians Sebag-Montefiore and Tristram Hunt, and who counts four of the new crop among her clients. Her only worry is that they might be "too pretty" to be taken seriously. "They'll just have to prove what formidable minds they have."

So who are the new history boys (and girls) and why have they come along now, when the subject is said to be in decline? The crop of six being tipped as the Starkeys of the future are Dan Jones, Claudia Renton, Ben Wilson, John Bew, Francesca Beauman and Simon Reid-Henry. They believe the key to revitalising history is a mix of strong narratives, exciting personalities and quirky facts....


comments powered by Disqus

Subscribe to our mailing list