Lives as lenses

Lives as lenses

Historians, it seems to me, are temperamentally divided into those who gravitate to the particularities of studying people — and those who want to describe big patterns and large-scale processes of change. For some the fascination of the past is in ultimately in understanding how people lived, thought, coped. For others it is in answering … Continue reading

Union or Disunion?

Union or Disunion?

I spend much of my professional life reading the words of people who were passionate advocates of Union, and, indeed, who declared their willingness to die for it. Last night I gave a talk about my new biography of Abraham Lincoln, who was the most articulate advocate of Union of all. The audience, at the … Continue reading

It’s the teaching that matters

It’s the teaching that matters

Last year, the government’s proposed new history curriculum caused intense debate about what history children should learn. Should the black nurse Mary Seacole be taught, or (implicitly) is her inclusion in a school history curriculum a sop to political correctness? Should the content of history lessons be a story of Britain or of the world? … Continue reading

How do children learn history?

How do children learn history?

If you were a teacher, would you take your children somewhere where you knew they were going to be shouted at and made to do household chores for no pay? Perhaps that’s best left as a rhetorical question. On school trips to Holdenby House in Northamptonshire, where Charles I was held prisoner by the Scots, … Continue reading

Echoes of Gettysburg

Echoes of Gettysburg

I was on Radio 3’s Night Waves last night presenting a short package about the legacy of the Gettysburg Address. You can listen to it here. On Radio 4, James Naughtie presented a documentary on how and why Lincoln came to give the speech (I appear in that programme as well). Here is the text … Continue reading

The five greatest Gettysburg performances

The five greatest Gettysburg performances

The extraordinary thing about the Gettysburg Address, which was given 150 years ago on Tuesday, is that people still venerate it as they do. It is, on one level, a pretty standard piece of wartime rhetoric, polarising the issues and claiming that the stakes are universal, eternal and profound. Churchill did the same sort of … Continue reading

Weathering the Storm

Weathering the Storm

It is, I suppose, an unalienable truth that the American Civil War was, in some senses a Revolution. Certainly that was true for enslaved African Americans who were legally freed, often displaced, sometimes reunited with separated family members, and, in a few cases, managed to acquire new wealth and some improvement in their political status … Continue reading

How to Write a History Essay

How to Write a History Essay

In the UCL History Department, we’ve been trying to work out how best to support the often difficult transition from school to university study. We’ve come up with (what I think is) an exciting new curriculum which is being introduced for new first years in September. I’ll be convening one of the new first year … Continue reading

A Battle of Wills

A Battle of Wills

The folks who produce BBC History Magazine have just published a special issue called The American Civil War Story. I had a couple of pieces in it, including one that seeks to explain why the South lost the war in less than a thousand words. This is it: Why the South Lost the Civil War … Continue reading

Elections Have Consequences

Elections Have Consequences

The 1860 Presidential Election was one of the most consequential elections in world history, since it directly triggered the American Civil War. (Others on the shortlist include the series of three Reichstag elections in 1932-3). It was in response to the election of Abraham Lincoln that the first tranche of slave states seceded, and Lincoln … Continue reading