Another podcast summary here – this time the History of England, as found at http://historyofengland.typepad.com/. As the title suggests, this is very much from the “History of X” school of podcasts that have sprang up in the aftermath of History of Rome. In this podcast series, David Crowther covers the history of England from Anglo Saxon times onward using his Ladybird book of English monarchs. The end goal is to reach the end of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1901, but at the time of writing he is 124 podcasts in and currently somewhere in the reign of Richard II so there’s still plenty more to go.
Compared to the Rome or Hardcore History, this feels a lot more homemade – the phrase “man in a shed” has been used more than a few times – but it’s none the worse for it. There may very occasionally be a slight echo or phrases which probably should have been edited out, but that’s not to say there’s not a lot of work put into it.
There are am-dram re-enactments of pivotal historical moments (featuring family and friends), competitions, recommendations of books or exhibits (myself, I went to see the Wilton Diptych in the National Gallery after a mention in the podcast*) and countless other light-hearted diversions which add up to give this plenty of variety and life. It’s this area where I feel Crowther really excels, no matter what the main narrative may be, it’s rarely presented in a dry way – he manages to add his own twist to things. In that way, it has a lot of similarities to the Terry Deary Horrible History books that I loved as a kid (I’ve not heard them mentioned and Crowther is from an older generation than me, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he had taken some influence from their style at some point). In this podcast the audience feels as central to the design as the history, things are well paced and aimed at the audience and it’s no surprise that they have an active Facebook group** with all sorts of loosely related distractions on offer.
The main source for the podcast is, of course, the Ladybird Book of Kings and Queens of England but Crowther has done plenty of research outside of that tome and generally seems to be able to offer a wide ranging perspective on the history. Perhaps not the perspective of an expert academic but certainly that of a very well informed amateur. The level of the podcast is aimed such that no (or little) previous knowledge is required, so newcomers to English history should be able to jump straight in. Though I have focused on the irreverent humour, the podcaster is also a very good storyteller and provides a large amount of information so the irreverence never feels like filler or padding in an empty episode. There are many times when the podcast has prompted me to read further on a particular subject or provided some missing piece of information that bring a previously confused topic into something that makes more sense.
The narrative itself runs smoothly from the early Saxon era onwards, with occasional side episodes covering particular themes, characters or events. These build up the world around the main story of kings and royalty, and provide a bit more detail on how the world around us developed into what it is today. Of these, I particularly liked the episode on 14th Century fashion (ep. 113) and the socio-economic coverage of the Great Famine (ep. 89). There are also guest episodes by other up and coming podcasters – it was my first exposure to Zach Twamley and his series When Diplomacy Fails (one I may cover in an upcoming post) and to Stephen Guerra and his History of the Papacy. This actually fits to give a very good balance with the main story driving onwards and side episodes filling in the blanks.
If I haven’t been enthusiastic enough so far in this review, I’ll summarize by saying – this is certainly my favourite podcast out there. It’s consistently informative and entertaining, with a relaxed style that always makes it a joy to listen to. I would very highly recommend this podcast to anyone with some free time and a passing interest in English history.
* Medieval art isn’t really my favourite style but it’s really very good. As is the rest of the National Gallery!
** I’ve never worked up the nerve to take part in the group but I probably should. It seems like a friendly place.