Culture & Literature
BBC History Magazine

BBC History Magazine

December 2020

BBC History Magazine aims to shed new light on the past to help you make more sense of the world today. Fascinating stories from contributors are the leading experts in their fields, so whether they're exploring Ancient Egypt, Tudor England or the Second World War, you'll be reading the latest, most thought-provoking historical research. BBC History Magazine brings history to life with informative, lively and entertaining features written by the world's leading historians and journalists and is a captivating read for anyone who's interested in the past.

United Kingdom
Immediate Media Company London Limited
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13 Issues

in this issue

1 min.

It seems barely a week goes by these days without a new Viking discovery being announced. And the more we learn about these people, the deeper our understanding grows about their world and their behaviour – although, of course, scholarly disagreements remain. In this month’s cover feature, on page 50, Neil Price draws on the latest thinking to examine the Viking psyche, exploring everything from gender identities to magic and warfare. Another theme we’re covering in depth this month is medieval monarchy. On page 37 you’ll find a conversation between Dan Jones and Charles Spencer about the White Ship disaster, which famously left Henry I without a legitimate male heir. The result was almost two decades of the Anarchy, which saw Henry’s daughter, Matilda, battling her cousin Stephen for the throne.…

1 min.
this issue’s contributors

Laurence Rees I’ve spent the last 30 years making TV documentaries and writing books about the Third Reich, Stalinism and the Second World War, and I’m intrigued by the similarities and differences between Hitler and Stalin. Laurence explores the tyrants’ twisted dreams about utopia on page 22 Corinne Fowler Country houses are central to the image of Britain’s rural idyll, yet I’ve long wanted to draw greater attention to their links to the British empire. That’s why I’m heading the national education and public history project Colonial Countryside. Corinne reveals the web of colonial connections linked to stately homes on page 44 Ian Mortimer Until writing The Time Traveller’s Guide to Regency Britain, I had never properly understood the depth of misery of the working classes during the industrial revolution – or how great the contrast was…

4 min.
michael wood on…

“History at its most affecting is the tale of a single life through time” We are often told that the majority of history searches in archives, libraries and record offices, both in person and online, concern family history and genealogy. We all want to know about ourselves: where are we from? Who do we think we are? This fundamental human urge to know about our past is the theme of some of the best history books I have read this year. Take, for example, Philippe Sands’ brilliant East West Street. On one level this is a human rights lawyer’s compelling story of the development of the legal concepts of genocide and crimes against humanity. But at its root, it is the tale of a family devastated by the Holocaust, whose unanswered…

15 min.
hitler and stalin’s utopian dreams

Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin both cast long shadows over the 20th century. One, the leader of Nazi Germany, hoped to create a vast new empire underpinned by his racist beliefs; the other wanted to build the first communist state in the fledgling Soviet Union. But despite the differing nature of their goals, the two men were motivated by the same overarching passion: the desire to create what they believed was a utopia here on Earth. Unlike other dictators, many of whom resemble Mafia bosses, these two each thought that they had uncovered the secret of existence. Yet as individual personalities, Hitler and Stalin could scarcely have been further apart. Over the last 30 years, in the course of writing various history books and making many historical documentaries, I’ve met a…

9 min.
the voices of china

THE SOLDIER 1 “How many of us will be wounded no one knows” Heifu, an ordinary soldier writing two millennia ago, describes war, rebellions – and cut-price cloth China was united by the fearsome First Emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, in 221 BC. His relentless power was symbolised by the Terracotta Army guarding his tomb: impassive, regimented, unquestioningly obedient to his authority. But, recently, stunning documentary finds have given us a picture of the real-life troops of the First Emperor: soldiers’ letters that bring to mind the Vindolanda tablets, written by Roman troops posted near Hadrian’s Wall. Take this from 6 April 223 BC, in which the brothers Heifu and Jing send greetings to their family back home: “Our unit is about to help in attacks on rebel cities at Huaiyang in Henan. How long…

16 min.
“this was the most disastrous moment in british maritime history”

Dan Jones: Your new book concerns one of the most dramatic events in the Middle Ages, that’s the sinking of the White Ship in 1120 – nine centuries ago. It’s been described as the medieval Titanic, but you argue in the book that it’s even more meaningful in the course of history. Can we begin with what happened in November 1120? Charles Spencer: On the night of 25 November 1120, something cataclysmic happened to the English royal family. On the White Ship were 300 people, among them some of the most important figures in Anglo-Norman society. And the most important by a very long way was the sole legitimate male heir to King Henry I. Henry is the backbone of this story. It’s a true-life Greek tragedy where a king has, over…