So, my old University mucker Scott – Mr Allsop to you and I – has written a book. Scott has dedicated his career as an award-winning history teacher to engaging the young ‘uns in history, to spread the nerdy joy of history (so much nerdy joy!) and equip the next generation with the historian’s ability to interpret evidence and formulate a coherent argument – an important life skill. Scott’s podcasts on http://www.MrAllsopHistory.com support thousands of history students to prepare for exams, and he hosts an iTunes Top-100 daily podcast, ‘on this day in history’ at http://www.HistoryPod.net . The latter has provided the basis for his first book, which distills complex areas of history across centuries and continents into historical stories for each day of the year.
There’s a huge range here – the first week of January alone will take you on a journey through the early roots of the UN in the 1940s, the arrest of a 1970s British serial killer, 20th century US foreign policy, the coronation of the last Anglo-Saxon King in the 11th century and drama with another English King 600 years later, 1960s Czechoslovakian communism, and the overthrow of Pol Pot in 1979. There’s also a good dose of fun too, recognizing that one may need to alleviate the trauma of reading about key episodes in the rise of Fascism across 20th century Europe with a less stressful tale about the introduction of Mr Potato Head (1 May 1952).
Each one-page story sets an engaging level of detail within a wider historical context. I especially enjoyed reading about the first Oktoberfest (1810), the first reported UFO sighting (1561), a 17th century tax on beards (the Chancellor should really think about introducing that in various parts of East London – we’d fill the coffers and Austerity Britain would be no more), the theft of the Mona Lisa (1911), and a strange 1374 episode of spontaneous dancing in the street which lent credence to my theory that our dear departed David Bowie is actually a time-travelling Dr Who type who is just temporarily off in another dimension encouraging 14th century German peasants to get their rocks off (see YouTube below for further evidence). Come on people, it’s been a tough year and we all have to dream a dream…
History is more than a collection of dates. But condensing a massive historical episode into a succinct tale that took place on a particular date provides a reference we can get our heads around (‘Oh, England was founded on 12 July 927?’ That’s a thousand years before my gran was born!’), which can then prompt a further journey of discovery (‘What the bums was England anyway back in the 10th century? What’s all this Wessex crap?’). With all that history out there, it is sometimes only by luck that we find that part which really engages us. A book like 366 Days can open the door to something bigger than just a one-page story. Bravo Mr Allsop!
Next week will be a bumper week of Christmas-themed books to get you in the Christmas spirit. For now, with thanks to YouTube, here is David and Mick doing what they do best. Don’t look directly at Jagger’s hips as you may actually fall pregnant, given the virility of The Man Who Cannot Stop Spawning Children and our proximity to the Nativity. You have been warned.