Birthday with Dad

Creative Histories conference, Bristol (July 19-21, 2017)

Last month I went to a three-day conference organised by the University of Bristol, on “Creative Histories”. I signed up basically as soon as registrations were open, and it was exciting to go hang out with people for three days and talk about history-stories.

Sometimes public history can feel like a corrective, like: here is a thing people commonly think, but actually, here is how that is WRONG WRONG WRONG! Often that corrective is needed – like evidence for ethnic diversity in Roman Britain, or of 17th-century women knowing what swears were – but it’s also the sad thing that happens when a tour guide tells a lively story and adds, “of course, the real history is a little bit different [more dull].” There’s the fun history which is light and un-rigorous, and then there’s the proper factual history which is a super buzzkill, and they are different and you can’t be both.

What was pleasing about the Creative History conference is that it is about, as it says, creating – understanding and communicating history by generating something. Presenters and attendees were novelists, artists, a theatre group, a storyteller-dramaturg (I know!), and even the people who have ‘traditional’ historian jobs were doing creative work: making films, commissioning theatre, making comics as part of their PhDs on history-in-comics (I know!). Making something is more fun than cutting off or corralling something, and people who make things are generally pretty great people to spend time with. Read more...

Birthday with Dad

Tudor Brexit

Hello! How are you? I was working on a book and then a bunch of ostentatiously horrible political stuff happened, so instead I’ve spent the last three weeks drinking constantly and refreshing Twitter. Ha ha ha! [MUFFLED UNCONTROLLABLE SOBBING]

It’s become apparent that the leaders of the Leave campaign had zero plan, and either never really expected to win, or assumed everything would just turn out OK: I think possibly one of the reasons so many people went “yeah, sure, let’s leave the EU, no idea what will happen but it will probably be fine!” is that it taps into one of the main stories England tells itself about itself, about that time we told Europe to fuck off and it went great.

The story goes something like, Read more...

Birthday with Dad

A Shakespeare haggadah

Okay, I ended up doing something for HASHTAGSHAKESPEARE400 after all!

Tonight is also the second night of Pesach (Passover), and I put together a sort of Shakespearean accompaniment to the haggadah (the big book that everyone at a seder will have a different version of). It’s not a full haggadah, but you can read it along with most parts of the seder.

There are some bad jokes and probably some mistakes too. Any corrections or comments very welcome! Read more...

Birthday with Dad

A Crypto-Jew’s Guide to Surviving the Spanish Inquisition

Hello! Gosh I had this ambitious plan for writing something for every day in October, though you can see how well that’s gone. So many things happened this summer that I’ve been keeping it all on the shelf instead of telling about it.

I did another History Showoff talk last week, this one titled ‘How to Survive the Spanish Inquisition: Practical Tips for Crypto-Jews’. I got the timing a bit better than the Fascist Romeo & Juliet one, when I had to cut about a third of it, and the venue (in a great scuzzy pub basement) was much more fun. However, the Photoshop work is much worse, as I did it myself, including this slide about New Christians (converted Jews) having to go to church even when they’re menstruating:

Sevilla Cathedral - bloody text Read more...

Birthday with Dad

Benito and Juliet: fascism and Shakespeare in Verona

Last month I did a talk about Romeo and Juliet, Verona, tourism and fascism at History Showoff, a fun night where a bunch of historians get up in a pub basement and have exactly nine minutes to share something interesting with the audience. Although I am not a proper historian, the organiser let me have a go anyway (thank you Steve!), and I think it went well. There’s a video on YouTube (and below), although I could only watch 30 seconds of it before turning it off, because I hate hearing my own voice!

Here’s the gist of it, adapted from my notes, though I realised while putting this together that I didn’t really keep track of citations, since I wasn’t thinking past the presentation (see again: not proper historian). So there are some parts in the talk that aren’t here (mostly jokes about TripAdvisor) and some parts here that aren’t in the talk (mostly because I was nervous and forgot). Read more...

Birthday with Dad

National Portrait Gallery and restaurant

Last December I had an afternoon unexpectedly free up, so I decided to spend it at my favourite big art gallery near Trafalgar Square. Not the grand one with the pillars, the National Gallery, but the one around the corner on Charing Cross Road, across the street from Pret, the National Portrait Gallery.

Both arrange their collections by chronology, so you go forward in time as you move through them. But while the National Gallery’s halls are just by century – “16th: Leonardo, Cranach, Michelangelo, Raphael, Holbein”, you can practically hear the curator yawning – the National Portrait Gallery, which has to fit into smaller rooms, has also grouped each era into themes.

Read more...