Main content

How do we construct our pictures of the past, including both truth and myth, asks best-selling author Hilary Mantel.

How do we construct our pictures of the past, including both truth and myth, asks best-selling author Hilary Mantel. Where do we get our evidence? She warns of two familiar errors: either romanticising the past, or seeing it as a gory horror-show. It is tempting, but often condescending, to seek modern parallels for historical events. "Are we looking into the past, or looking into a mirror?" she asks. "Dead strangers...did not live and die so we could draw lessons from them." Above all, she says, we must all try to respect the past amid all its strangeness and complexity.

Over the course of the lecture series, Dame Hilary discusses the role that history plays in our culture. She asks how we view the past and what our relationship is with the dead.

The programme is recorded in front of an audience at Middle Temple in London, followed by a question and answer session.

The Reith Lectures are chaired by Sue Lawley and produced by Jim Frank.

Available now

43 minutes

Broadcasts

What we learnt from Hilary Mantel’s Reith Lectures

We’ve picked out some interesting insights from the 2017 BBC Reith Lectures.

The secret world of Tudor crime

A glimpse into the turbulent Tudor underworld to mark Hilary Mantel's Reith Lectures.

Are these the greatest historical novels ever written?

Daisy Buchanan reviews some of the most popular historical novels of the past few years.

Books website

Get closer to books with in-depth articles, quizzes and our picks from radio & TV.

New to the Reith Lectures? Here’s where to start

Four lectures recommended by the series producer.

The Hellishly Difficult War Quiz

How much do you know about historical conflicts and those who fought in them?

Podcast