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History of History

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 22 January 2009

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how the writing of history has changed over time, from ancient epics to medieval hagiographies and modern deconstructions. In the 6th century AD, the bishop of Tours began his history of the world with a simple observation that “A great many things keep happening, some of them good, some of them bad”. For a phrase that captures the whole of history it’s among the best, but in writing about the past we are rarely so economical. From ancient epics – Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War - to medieval hagiographies and modern deconstructions, historians have endlessly chronicled, surveyed and analysed the great many things that keep happening, declaring some of them good and some of them bad. But the writing of history always illuminates two periods – the one history is written about and the one it is written in. And to look at how the writing of history has changed is to examine the way successive ages have understood their world. In short, there is a history to history.

With Paul Cartledge, AG Leventis Professor of Greek Culture and Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge; John Burrow, Emeritus Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford and Miri Rubin, Professor of Medieval and Early Modern History at Queen Mary, University of London.

  • Further Reading

    A History of Histories: Epics, Chronicles, Romances and Inquiries from Herodotus and Thucydides to the Twentieth Century by John Burrow (Penguin, 2007)

    The Histories by Herodotus (Penguin Classics Paperback, 1996)

    Encyclopaedia of Historians and Historical Writing (2 vols, London, 1999)

    The Early History of Rome, Books I-V by Titus Livy (Author), Stephen Oakley (Preface), Aubrey De Selincourt (Translator) (Penguin Classics paperback revised edition, 2002) (Bks. 1-5)

    Gregory of Tours: The Merovingians (Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Cultures) by Gregory of Tours, editor Alexander Cuallander Murray (Broadview Press Paperback, 2005)

    The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 1 to 3 by Edward Gibbon (Penguin Classics Paperback, 1996)

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