Celebrating 1 Year of History Indoors!

This week marks the celebration of the 1st Birthday of History Indoors. It seems only yesterday that Michael kicked us off with his talk ‘What actually was the British Civil War?‘ on the 29th of April 2020! Since then, our 22 strong team have put on 49 original talks and roundtables, 35 blogs and 179 videos on YouTube. On Wednesday the 28th, Michael will host our Birthday celebration talk, taking us through some of the sites and sounds of this tumultuous year. Until then, this blog is a look back at some of the incredible work our historians have put into the platform for us, as well as a bit of a behind-the-scenes dig into the could have beens!

On the 24th of March 2020, Boris Johnson announced that “you must stay at home” to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. This was history being made – it is often said that history is better to study than to live through, and I think we can all appreciate that now more than ever. Having immediately lost our in-person socialising (even the introvert historians liked to meet every now and then) we were seriously worried about lockdown and its effects on people’s minds. Being locked down is even worse when you have nothing but to sit and wait until the next announcement, so myself and Michael got to work. We came up with many names – along with History Indoors we had ‘HistoryinHouse’, ‘History For All’ and ‘Historysnippits’ were all thrown about. Eventually, we landed on our name on the 30th of March 2020. We thought we could combine our love of history with our love of talking about history, but making the talks public so people could watch our ramblings.

Old vs New!

Our talks have spanned thousands of years – Percy gave us a tour of Ancient Greece in his talk ‘Athens’ guiding us through the birthplace of democracy (and making us deeply envious of walking around a Mediterranean climate on holiday). Mike gave us a location-specific guide through the first 700 years of Liverpool, talking us through the ups and downs of a city with a past of ups and downs, and most recently, Josh took us through the ‘haunted pasts’ of the Psychiatric asylums, framing history through the changing use of space and place.

The early modern period has also offered our historians a chance to talk about gender. One of the most prominent uses of gender in the early modern period was told through witchcraft and show us just how dangerous our beliefs can be: Sam and Cody have both given us an insight into the search for witches in East Anglia and Lancashire. Julie also guided us through Mary Farmer’s life, showing us that despite pressures to conform to gender roles, there was still room for an interesting life (sometimes even involving pirates!).

Memories and legacies have formed key parts of our work. Amy and Jo have educated us on the legacies of Queens – the remarkable lives of both Mary of England and Christina of Sweden offered us a brand new perspective on the legacies of such remarkable women. Steven looked at memory from a different angle, jumping across the pond to tell us about the legacies of the American Revolution, Republic and Civil War through statues – an artefact of history both out-of-date and modern at the same time!

The enduring legacies of empire has also found a place with History Indoors. Our historians have looked at empire from a variety of different angles, including Ben’s look at the conquest of the Americas – an often forgotten story of naval battles, Western curiosity and pirates. Bringing the empire story up to date, Ryan and Josh both took aim at the legacies of empire – Ryan took us through the echoes of the British empire in Zimbabwe and Josh explores the forgotten legacies of empire, shedding light on a hence neglected story in British Malaya.

We have also been guided through the rough-and-ready twentieth century, facing war, political strife and common myth. No doubt that the First and Second World Wars were extremely important in our memory of the century. Louise showed us the First World War’s powerful visual legacy, showing the gentle fade from honour and glory to mud, strife and death. But despite the lasting legacies of warfare and the mountains of historical research, we have also explored some of the more forgotten aspects of war. Mike shows us that war was not just fought by men on the battlefields – he showed us the work of women and their work throughout the conflict. James also takes us through the RAF and the ‘forgotten few’ that worked in Bomber Command and the legacies this largely forgotten organisation held.

The Twentieth Century, despite the ever presence of warfare, endured long-standing battles of politics and culture especially towards the end of the period. Paul gave us an insight into the nature of policing in the early Twentieth Century, taking us through one particular case and using evidence from the period. Chris has taken us through the history of football before the Premier League – showing us football before the glamour and its place in the conflict of post-war British politics. Lewis also showed us the railway – an industry in the 1970s perceived to be ‘too dear, too dirty, too slow’ and its struggle to respond to a hostile political climate.

But we’re not just about talks and videos – we are also prolific bloggers! Miles inaugurated the blog on the 18th of May with ‘The Background for Bond: Ian Fleming, James Bond and the British wartime Secret Service‘ and wrote a total of 12 blogs for us – from Dover Castle through the ages to exploring history through fiction through King Solomon’s Mines, and Conflicting Collective Memories to Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain. Sad though we were to see Miles go, we had a fantastic line up of historians ready and waiting; Liam told us about the American propaganda effort through Donald Duck and Ash told us the remarkable story of two spies in the Second World War as part of Women’s History Month.

So what next? As lockdown restrictions have come to an end we occasionally get asked whether we’ll be coming to a close soon – far from it! Whilst we were formed as a result of lockdown, we are by no means a lockdown only project! We have established, not only developed, a place for history lovers to come and hear history, we have a platform for some brilliant researchers across multiple institutions. Keep an eye out over the next few months to meet some of our newer members of our team and explore even more history!

Thank you both to each and every one of our remarkable historians, whose time and effort make this project possible and thank you to you, the viewers, whose support keeps us going and helps to shape our future.

By Lewis Smith

Lewis is a research student at the University of Essex in the Department of History, and alongside Michael Sewell helped to found History Indoors. Originally from Suffolk, he has a keen interest in British industry, particularly how nationalised industries such as the British Overseas Airways Corporation (you’ll know that company now as British Airways) and British Rail, have come to shape our views of those industries today. Lewis is also interested in historical video games and how we as individuals consume the history as we play them.