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History lessons

BBC History magazine has just celebrated its 300th issue. James Evelegh salutes its success.

By James Evelegh

History lessons

In 1916, Henry Ford famously proclaimed that “history is more or less bunk”. I’m not entirely sure what he meant by that. If he was referring to the history-is-written-by-the-victors approach, then maybe fair comment. If he was decrying the narrow focus on political and military history at the expense of, arguably more important social and economic history, then perhaps he had a point there too.

Whatever it was, it’s just as well for publishers of history magazines, like BBC History, that many people don’t agree.

BBC History magazine, which has just celebrated its 300th issue, launched in 2000. Its July-December 2000 ABC certificate showed a circulation total of 50,082. Its most recent boasted one of 85,299 (100% actively purchased and 84% print).

Editor Rob Attar said: “We’re delighted to have reached our 300th issue with the magazine still going strong, and now part of a hugely successful multi-channel brand.”

And that’s the exciting thing – their print magazine is indeed going strong, but so is its thriving ‘History Extra’ website (tons of intriguing content, much of it locked away behind what I presume are productive reg and pay walls), an astonishingly successful podcast operation (1,700 episodes and counting) and a busy events schedule (anyone fancy a weekend break at Holme Lacy House in the company of former editor Dave Musgrove and various eminent historians?).

It’s a title that deals with what’s gone before in a thoroughly forward looking way.

If Ford had been complaining about the narrow focus of some historians, he would have been impressed with the breadth of their offering.

Issue #300 included features on ‘The surprising story of medieval breastfeeding’, ‘Britain’s squirrel wars – The 150-year battle between reds and greys’, and ‘How will history remember Henry Kissinger?’.

To mark the occasion, it also contained a bumper quiz with “300 fiendish trivia questions” set by notable historians. I’ve always fancied myself as a bit of history buff – my special subject at university was Richard II – so I went straight to ‘The Medieval Era’ section which had ten questions set by Marc Morris.

Mortifyingly, I bombed badly. One out of ten right! The single question I answered correctly was, ‘Which king was killed in the New Forest?’. As everyone knows, it was King $@%#!&£ II.

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