Wednesday, November 2, 2016

7 Questions With Jamie Jeffers, creator of The British History Podcast

Jamie Jeffers has a Juris Doctorate and a BA in English.  You could say that his entire educational career has been focused upon researching and developing compelling narratives, and he makes use of that experience here. He was born in the United Kingdom, but he has lived in the United States for much of his live.  In spite of that, he grew up with an intense love of British history. The podcast’s website is

1. How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?
My grandfather got me started on history. While I was born in Britain, I was raised mostly in the US and so my grandfather took it upon himself to make sure that I knew the history of my ancestors. Luckily, he was a gifted storyteller and would bring history to life as he recounted it. The result of this was that I developed a deep love of history and of storytelling.

That approach to history... the attention to the human side of it and the dramatic story that's unfolding... is something that I've maintained throughout my life and is something that I certainly bring to bear upon The British History Podcast.

2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
Communicating history is my profession. I live and breathe British history. It is almost the only thing I read, it dominates the vast majority of my day, and it is something that I'm always thinking about. As I walk to get coffee, I'm thinking about how events and individuals interact. As I'm cooking dinner, I'm thinking about the cultural incentives that influenced decisions and outcomes. When I'm at the pub with my partner, we're often talking about how best to tell a story so that the details are included but they are also presented in a way that will enable the audience to attach to the people involved. For me, history is an all-consuming passion.

3. What is the role of history in your professional life? career? 

It already is. I produce The British History Podcast full time. It's the best job I've ever had.

4. Why is studying/knowing history important?
Knowing history gives us a sense of place, which I feel is important. But I also think it's vital to know the complexity and nuance of history. All too often people prefer to get the mythological version of history. Many history outlets like to tell simple stories of good and bad people. It's clear why they do this... it's easy. However, I think that's dangerous and leads people to strange notions about the past and present.

For example, if you don't have a nuanced understanding of the cultures and events of the past, then you might be tempted to believe that the way things are perceived today are natural and timeless. That the common sense of today is exactly the same as the common sense of the past. That your culture is the same as the culture of your ancestors, and that your views are the same.

But the truth is that the past is a foreign country and there is no such thing as true "Englishness" any more than there is a universal "common sense" and I think it's important for us to always remember that.

Learning proper deep history, with all its complexity, reminds us that no monolithic explanation of any group of people. Not now, and not in the past. Moreover, it shows us that the truths that we feel are timeless and certain are anything but I would say that proper history teaches critical thinking, and I believe that's absolutely vital for society.

5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
I'm a sucker for cultural history. I like to know how people saw things, how they did things, and why. I like to study the sociological reasons behind the dry events that are chronicled in books, so as to provide them context and better understand the people of the time. The where and when of history is important... but not nearly as important as the how and why. And often times, the answers to how and why can be found in culture.

6. What is The British History Podcast and how did it start?
The British History Podcast is a chronological telling of the story of Britain. I started in the Ice Age, and I've been steadily moving forward ever since.

There are several reasons for why I started it....

The first is because far too many people think they hate history, and instead what they hate is the way it was taught to them when they were young. Almost everyone loves stories, and our earliest histories came in the form of stories retold in social settings. The Podcasting environment allows us to reconnect to that ancient tradition of oral histories.

Second, something I'm rather passionate about is the democratization of knowledge. There tend to be a great deal of barriers between information and the people who seek it, often those barriers are economic, social, or geographic. The internet allows us to break through some of those barriers. And since history belongs to all of us, I think it's important that we make this information available.

And finally, this is the best creative outlet I've ever had. I absolutely love doing it!

7. What kinds of stories can listeners expect when they listen to your podcasts? What stories have stood out in your mind so far?
So far, we have covered the history of Britain from the last ice age up to the crowning of King Alfred the Great. Listeners will hear of the time when the island was once dominated by giant deer, they will hear of the invasions by Julius Caesar, they will hear of the rebellions of the Britons including the rebellion lead by the famous Boudica, and they will hear of the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the rise of Anglo Saxon Britain.

It is with Anglo Saxon Britain that the show really gets its stride. The Anglo Saxons are a group of people that most people are only vaguely aware of but they are an absolutely fascinating culture. You will learn about kings who were chastised by the pope for sleeping with nuns, threatened mighty Charlemagne, and who took part in some of the greatest comeback stories of all time. You'll hear about Queens who have changed the course of history and who refused to be confined to mere window dressing.

You'll also hear about the culture of the times. Have you ever wondered what daily life was like for the Anglo Saxons? What their medicine looked like? How much alcohol they drank? How their military was organized? How they handled trade? What their economy looked like? How their houses were built? If you listen to the British History Podcast, you'll have all of these questions answered... and more.

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