Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Horrible histories and horrible historians!

I have been a bit lax about posting my articles on here - partly because I post so often on School Gate

But I have had a few pieces of interest in the paper recently....

Firstly, I had a news piece and interview with Terry Deary (author of Horrible Histories) which was great fun. I also did a live chat with him on the blog, which I really enjoyed, partly because so many children came along. You can read it again on the link I've just popped in.

Here's the news story -

Or you can read it below....

Historians are seedy and horrible, says Terry Deary, children’s author

Sarah Ebner
He owes his success to history, but the author Terry Deary has described historians as “seedy and devious”.

The bestselling writer of the Horrible Histories series added that all historians were out to “make a name for themselves”, denied that his books were history books at all and even started a spat with Niall Ferguson, one of Britain’s best-known historians.

“Historians are nearly as seedy and devious as politicians,” Deary, 64, said. “They pick on a particular angle and select the facts to prove their case and make a name for themselves ... They don’t write objective history.”

Deary — whose books have sold more than 20 million copies — does not like any historians. “Eventually you can see through them all,” he said. “They all come with a twist.” However, he reserved his greatest ire for Ferguson, the former Oxford historian who now lectures at Harvard University.

“Obnoxious people like Niall Ferguson write a book to prove that the British Empire was a good thing,” Deary said. “He’s a deeply offensive right-wing man who uses history to get across a political point.”

In response, Ferguson admitted to surprise that Deary was commenting on his work. “It’s a little like asking Rory Bremner for his opinion on George Osborne’s spending cuts or Sacha Baron Cohen to review Simon Schama’s forthcoming history of the Jews,” he said. “I have read some of the Horrible Histories to my children, along with Harry Potter, The Hobbit and many other children’s books. They’re quite funny. And so is this.”

“You say that Terry Deary thinks my book Empire had ‘a political point’. I am not sure what that means. The book argued that there were benefits as well as costs to the British Empire, which is not a political point but a historical judgment. Terry Deary says that he ‘wants to be anti-Establishment’. That sounds more like someone who is trying to get across a political point.”

The Horrible Histories series relates historical events in a way that attracts children — with blood and gore. However, Deary (who got a D in his history A level) said he did not write “history books”, but “about people”. He added that his aim was to “counteract the lies” told by teachers.

“For example, when I went to school, I was told Henry VIII was a bit cruel but that he was a good king because he was strong. That’s what I believed but it’s utter, utter evil to promote that idea. He was a psychopath who should never have been able to rule the country. And that is what the system allows.”

Historians cannot decide whether to be grateful that Deary has attracted more children to the study of history, or angry at his attitude towards them.

“Does this man go to the archive, or is he just a parasite on historians?” asked David Starkey, an expert on Henry VIII. “He does make a real point about a certain type of history, which is designed to put forward a case, but what on earth does ‘objective’ mean? In the reign of Henry VIII, for example, the main archive alone is 244 volumes of about 800 closely written pages each. That’s three million facts, and the historian has to select from them.”

Paula Kitching, of the Historical Association, said: “We don’t want to throw insults backwards and forwards. But I’m surprised that he wants to attack history. There are many different kinds of historians out there and, whether he likes it or not, he’s falling into that category himself now.”

Meanwhile, Catharine Edwards, Professor of Ancient History at Birkbeck, University of London, said that children “absolutely loved” the books. “If it takes toilets to get them interested in history, that’s fine. It’s the most gruesome side of things which attracts the young.”

Deary admitted that he was disappointed to be so closely linked to the Horrible Histories series, because he does not own the brand. He is also keen to turn his back on children’s books and move on to adult fiction. “It’s time for a new career direction,” he said.

Terry Deary will be taking part in a live chat on the Times education blog, School Gate, on Tuesday June 1 at noon.

Horrible histories tour

· During Roman feasts, guests could eat so much that they had to be sick, and a special room was set aside for them called a vomitorium. They would then go back into the dining room to continue eating

· Cures for the plague included shaving a chicken’s bottom and strapping it to the plague sore

· Elizabeth I did not want to have her rotten teeth removed. To show her how easy and painless it was, the Bishop of London had one of his own teeth taken out while she watched

· James I picked his nose and never washed his hands

· Queen Victoria’s son-in-law would have his collection of glass eyes delivered to him at dinner parties

· In the First World War soldiers were told to urinate on a handkerchief and tie it round their face to protect them from a gas attack

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