History should be challenging, but it can be fun too. One of the great things about our subject is that it has inspired so many filmmakers, authors and even video game designers to do work that is as entertaining as it is interesting. We asked our students and staff what history they would recommend to keep pursuing your passion for history this summer.
While we may be interested in the past, we are certainly not stuck in it, and one of the clear favourites was a recent release: 1917, Sam Mendes’s intense run through the trenches of the First World War. Other popular films from the last decade included Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave and The Favourite, a genre-bending black comedy set in an imaginative eighteenth century (particularly special to us in the History Department, as the historical adviser was our former student Dr Hannah Greig ). Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, an epic tale of revenge, was an easy pick among staff and students alike.
When it came to TV recommendations, one word united staff and students alike: Blackadder. Probably not something to base your essays on, but you might be on safer ground with another firm favourite: The Crown, Netflix’s hit drama about the life of Queen Elizabeth II in the context of modern British history. Rome was also popular among staff and students alike. And lest you think you will ever grow out of Horrible Histories, by our Honorary Research Associate Greg Jenner, our students certainly haven’t!
The BBC swept the board here. The clear winner was the BBC’s flagship history radio show In Our Time – perhaps because Royal Holloway historians are on it so often? But for a lighter look, we also recommend You’re Dead to Me, which puts historians and comedians on equal footing.
You will probably not be surprised to discover that our historians love long books, and Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace was a clear winner in the fiction category among our staff. Among students, Markus Zusak's moving Holocaust novel The Book Thief was a popular choice, and so were the ever-popular Plantagenet and Tudor novels by Philippa Gregory. Plenty to choose from there! Turning to nonfiction: if you are looking for a visually enticing journey through the medieval past, we recommend Medieval Bodies: Life, Death and Art in the Middle Ages, by Jack Hartnell. If, instead, you want to understand the ideas and forces that created modern Europe, Mark Mazower’s Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century is a fave of staff and students alike.
The results here left no room for doubt: Assassin’s Creed is the most popular game in the department, whether staff or student. As the Admissions Tutor, I will give myself the perk of the final pick from the list: Civilization, a game I have been playing longer than I care to think about. And let me give you one tip: while I may be a French historian, I always recommend that you play as the Russians…