Ian Mortimer


What's New?

15 April 2024
Gloucester History Weekend

I had a very positive experience over the last couple of days speaking at Gloucester History Festival's spring weekend. My talk was entitled 'Why the Middle Ages matter', which (unusually for me) I did as an illustrated presentation. The opportunity to show a reconstructed eleventh-century nobleman's house and comparing it with an early-sixteenth-century equivalent and asking if anyone could 'spot the difference' was too much for me to resist. Likewise comparing the British Library's Anglo-Saxon map of the known world and comparing it with Abraham Ortelius's atlas. A full house too, which is always good to see.

As part of the festival, I took part in a special podcast for History Rage. My theme - in response to the question, which one historical thing do you wish everyone would stop believing? - was that Edward II died in Berkeley Castle in 1327. What actually happened was far more interesting - and essential to understanding English diplomatc history in the mid-fourteenth century and how knowledge is formed in the modern world. You can listen to this at the History Rage podcast page.

31 March 2024
A mixed bag

Here we are already at the end of the first quarter of 2024. I can't believe time has flown by so quickly. What have I been doing these the last three months? I have been working on my big, 4-year project to survey all the medieval pubs in the country - and all the supposedly medieval ones - for a substantial volume on our drinking heritage. I have been pushing two books that I wrote last year towards publication. I have started researching the history of the Drewe Arms, a pub in Drewsteignton (Devon), which has successfully been bought by the community and which opened its doors again recently. This pub is a national treasure; it is completely unmodernised, having been run by Mabel Mudge from 1919 until 1994. I am so glad it has been saved. It is the perfect example of what a village pub should be. I have given some more attention to the death of Edward II problem and the misleading statements still circulated about that event by academics (despite the proof that our knowledge of the suppsed event rests on unreliable information being published in the scholarly press in 2005). And I have been making progress on my current project, The History of England through the Windows of an Ordinary House. This last-mentioned project now takes centre stage: I should finish it at the end of the year.

30 March 2024
Medieval Horizons

It made me smile to look on amazon.co.uk this morning and see that my study of medieval social change is ranked at no. 9 on the Kindle bestsellers list. On which note, American readers might be interested to know that the audiobook - read by me - will be published by Tantor on 23 April.

16 February 2024
The end of parkrun?

People who have read my running book, Why Running Matters, will know I have been a big fan of parkrun since 2015. However the deletion of records of all sorts on the orders of the chief executive, Russ Jefferys, has hugely disappointed me. The organisation was always run on a strict fall-into-line-or-else basis, which meant there was always a risk of an absolutist taking it in the wrong direction. And that has now happened. All the records relating to age grades have gone, so you and I can no longer try to break the record for a local parkrun for, say, men aged 55-59. But nor can we admire the records of those who are the fastest. I can no longer compare myself to the best. We are not allowed to know what excellence is - in the pursuit of Mr Jeffery's idea of 'inclusivity'. See here for details. But it is not just about records. All those people who challenged themselves to do, say the most different parkruns, or 100, or 250 different parkruns - parkrun tourism, a rewarding hobby for those who joined the various clubs to achieve these goals - have seen their entire achievement deleted. In the name of inclusivity. Those who were 789th on the list of the 1,000 best performances at their local parkrun - and believed that their achievement would be there to be seen, freely available, forever - have now seen their lifetime-best performance deleted. In the name of inclusivity. It saddens me. I used to say the brilliance of parkrun was its ability to contain all sorts: if you want to be competitive, it provides you with a forum for that competitive instinct to be realised in a fub way. If you don't want to be competitive, you can walk, jog, bring your dog or whatever. and if you're somewhere between the two - i.e. competitive but not serious - it is ideal for you too. Not any more: it is no longer inclusive of people with a range of visions of what they want from it. In taking away the records of achievement, Mr Jefferys has taken away the very ability to achieve. For many people, he has taken away the very reason to run a parkrun in the first place. He says that parkrun 'only exists to bring people together', so why take away the focus that gives meaning to that coming together? In my world, this is like saying everyone can write history, regardless of how well they can handle primary sources or determine accuracy, and no version of the past is better than any other - in the name of inclusivity. The fact is that you don't make everyone equal by destroying the ability to achieve. You just denigrate human achievement and treat everyone as meaningless as an individual.

Tomorrow I will do parkrun, in Gloucester. But only because I am staying locally and want to say to those organising it that I appreciate what efforts they are going to, despite Mr Jefferys taking them for granted while stripping away much of the value of their volunteering.

19 January 2024
Medieval Horizons discussion

Earlier this week I recorded a podcast episode for The Lede, part of New Lines magazine, with the brilliant Dr Lydia Wilson. What a pleasure to be interviewed by someone who really knows her medieval stuff, comes at the Middle Ages from a different temporal perspective and is prepared to challenge me on some key points. It makes the whole event a little more edgy, more dynamic and more enjoyable (for all concerned, I think). The editorial team have turned it around in double-quick time and now you can listen to it here.

What was new in other years