When the title doesn’t match the content – a cautionary writing tale

Over the years I’ve signed an awful lot of publishing contracts. And every one of them has had a clause which reads much the same way. The publisher has full control not just of the appearance of the book but also its title. It’s done for good reason. An author might well call their book … More When the title doesn’t match the content – a cautionary writing tale

How the information age has revolutionised history

We live today in an age of unprecedented information. It’s easy to get – disposable, even. And an absolute boon to people like me. One of the huge benefits of the information revolution for historians has been the way that information, suddenly, is not just available online – it’s searchable. This is particularly true here … More How the information age has revolutionised history

Shot by both sides – a historical experience

Does anybody remember the old ‘Magazine’ number from 1978 – ‘Shot By Both Sides’? That phrase, to me, sums up one of today’s major problems. In this world of polemic, where debate is so often reduced to two simplistic positions, somebody who doesn’t agree with either risks being attacked by both sides. I’ve run into … More Shot by both sides – a historical experience

Why the way we think about history is important

There is a notion that history consists of ‘the facts’ – that all you have to do is discover ‘the facts’, which are literally true at face value, and that these ‘facts’ then ‘speak for themselves’. Such thinking, among other things, has fuelled the kind of dribble that I see pouring from the minds and … More Why the way we think about history is important

Why history must be taught in New Zealand schools

The decision this week that New Zealand history should be taught in New Zealand schools is long overdue. Inevitably, the question is ‘what’ history – an issue raised by the backlash brigade, who object to the Maori renaissance and the way society has rejected the old ideas of colonialism in the last generation. The broad … More Why history must be taught in New Zealand schools

All about stupid people who are too stupid to know they’re stupid

I had an idea for a crazy science fiction story set on a strange fantasy world in which the most powerful nation is taken over by a tangerine coloured moron with the emotional maturity of a spoilt four-year old who, alas, imagines himself to be the smartest individual that ever existed. Chaos and hilarity ensues. … More All about stupid people who are too stupid to know they’re stupid

History’s all about shapes and patterns – and it’s all relative

I periodically find myself in conversation with people who start with ‘You’re a historian, so you must know…’ – and then ask me something about some obscure piece of trivia in an area I’ve never looked at. However, my answer’s the same every time: as Einstein said, I don’t need to keep stuff to that … More History’s all about shapes and patterns – and it’s all relative

Hard lessons in the unprovoked malice of strangers

As a rule these days, I don’t engage with local enthusiasts who style themselves ‘historians’. It sounds harsh, but my experience of being attacked – out of the blue – by strangers with an interest in the field has been so consistent I’m reluctant to respond. Let me reveal a few experiences of my work, … More Hard lessons in the unprovoked malice of strangers