The History Forum

The History Forum offers online talks by professional historians covering a wide range of topics. Presenters have either published books, taught in academic institutions, or become acknowledged experts in their fields through extensive research and writing. We all have a passion to make history interesting, accessible and, where appropriate, fun.

If you cannot attend the live event, recordings will be available on request for seven days after the event.

Sign up for my newsletter to receive information and updates about The History Forum and my other work!

Subscribe

* indicates required

Series 3

£37 for 4 talks
OR £10 individual talk

£37 for 4 talks

Sunday 14 January, 2024
7pm (GMT)
Bonfire Of History
GUEST SPEAKER: Christopher Joll

The Lost Treasures, Trophies and Trivia of Madame Tussaud’s Exhibition

On the evening of 18th March 1925, a devastating fire ripped through the Marylebone premises of Madame Tussaud’s. By the time the fire was extinguished the following morning, little was left of the world-famous waxworks beyond a few grotesquely distorted models and a pile of scrap iron, which were the remnants of several of Napoleon’s carriages, including the one in which he escaped from the battlefield of Waterloo in 1815.

Christopher Joll’s fully illustrated talk is not only about a long-forgotten fire that destroyed the original concept of Madame Tussaud’s as a Cabinet of Curiosities, but it will also expose some major discrepancies relating to Madame Tussaud herself, the authenticity of much of her collection and the fate of items such as the original guillotine that was believed to have cut off the heads of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

A graduate of the University of Oxford and RMA Sandhurst, Christopher has served as an officer in The Life Guards, worked in the City and industry, and since 2017, is the regimental historian of the Household Cavalry. He has published 6 non-fiction books and is an experienced lecturer.

£10 for individual talk

I Dreamt I Slept at Madame Tussaud's

Sunday 4 February, 2024
7pm (GMT)
Buxton’s ‘Bluebirds’: The Great War, Shell Shock and Canadian Nurses
SPEAKER: Melanie King

The town of Buxton in Derbyshire was one of the many English spas that treated wounded soldiers of the Great War. Other than Bath, Buxton is the only place in England that has naturally hot mineral water. British soldiers suffering from stiff limbs, rapid heart rate, rheumatism and shell shock were offered hydrotherapy treatments at the Royal Devonshire Hospital, whilst wounded Canadians filled up Buxton’s Hydro Hotels for similar treatments. One of the forgotten stories of the First World War is how many nurses suffered from shell shock or wounds from being too near the Front or working 18 hour days with no breaks.

Join Melanie, author of The Secret History of English Spas (Bodleian, 2021), as she shares the tragic story of some of the Canadian nurses who suffered from shell shock and nervous breakdowns, and who were treated at Northwood House, an extension of the Canadian Red Cross Special Hospital in Buxton. The ‘Blue Birds’, named due to their blue uniforms, were often tragically misdiagnosed as ‘hysterical’. In so many cases, their treatment was too short and they were sent back to their nursing duties before they were well with disastrous consequences.

£10 for individual talk

Buxton's Bluebirds
Buxton Crescent Heritage Trust

This event is sponsored by the Buxton Crescent Heritage Trust.

Sunday 18 February, 2024
7pm (GMT)
Female Gladiators in Ancient Rome
GUEST SPEAKER: Dr Ross King

Female gladiators were a rare and unusual sight in Ancient Roman arenas. While male gladiators dominated the fighting scene, a small number of women defied societal norms and stepped into the arena to showcase their skills and bravery. Although documentation regarding female gladiators is scarce, the few accounts that have survived offer glimpses into their appearances and the impact they made on the Roman spectators. This illustrated lecture will look at the varied motivations of these women who thwarted their society’s confined and rigid expectations to appear in gladiatorial combat.

Dr Ross King is the author of numerous books on Italian art and history, including Brunelleschi’s Dome and The Bookseller of Florence. His latest book, forthcoming in March 2024, is The Shortest History of Italy.

£10 for individual talk

Female Gladiators in Ancient Rome

Sunday 25 February, 2024
7pm (GMT)
Rude, Lewd and Crude: Literature of the English Spa
SPEAKER: Melanie King

English spas during their glory days provided plot material for writers ranging from Fanny Burney and Jane Austen to more obscure poets and playwrights such as Gabriel O’Dingsless and numerous anonymous ‘water poets’ who chronicled the carefree antics of hedonistic pleasure-seekers to resorts such as Bath and Tunbridge Wells. This talk will introduce the history, etiquette and often ribald humour of spa culture as seen through fictional characters such as Sir Simon Blunderhead, Lady Bunbutter and Count Vermicelli.

Join Melanie King, social historian, and author of The Secret History of English Spas, published in 2021.

£10 for individual talk

Literature of the English Spa

This event is sponsored by The Woodstock Bookshop.


Series 4

£37 for 4 talks
OR £10 individual talk

£37 for 4 talks

Sunday 10 March, 2024 
7pm (GMT)
Frenemies in Iberia: The Story of Spain v. Portugal
GUEST SPEAKER: Professor David T. Gies

Even before the countries “Spain” and “Portugal” came into existence as national sovereignties (15th century), they were rivals for dominance of the Iberian Peninsula (and, for that matter, of the Western world). Once separate, then united, then separate again, the two countries have had a love/hate relationship with each other for two millennia. Which one became a country first? Which one is the 6th oldest country in Europe? Which one would dominate the sixteenth-century world? What are some of the cultural and political differences that define these two countries? How many languages are spoken on the Iberian Peninsula? Who has better wines? This presentation tells the story of a rivalry that has existed since early modern times.

David T. Gies is Emeritus Commonwealth Professor of Spanish at the University of Virginia in the United States. He has published extensively on Spanish history, he has won the University of Virginia Outstanding Teaching Award, and in 2007 he was knighted by HM Juan Carlos, King of Spain, for his achievements. Professor Gies spends much of his retirement as a guest lecturer on educational cruises and on tours of Spain and Portugal with Smithsonian Journeys.

£10 for individual talk

Frenemies in Iberia

Sunday 24 March, 2024  
7pm (GMT)
English Prophets Without Honour: Mother Shipton, Joanna Southcott and John Wroe
SPEAKER: Melanie King

The word ‘prophet’ comes from the Greek pro (‘before) and phétés (speaker). Prophets have performed important political and religious roles throughout history. The Old and New Testaments are filled with them: people who foretell the future, and who warn others against the unfortunate consequences of their actions. Many more prophets have appeared since biblical times, not least in England during the from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. This presentation will look at three of the more eccentric among them, such as Joanna Southcott, who predicted that she would give birth to the Son of God, and John Wroe, a farmer’s son from Yorkshire who claimed that God had instructed him to wander the streets of Bradford, handing out leaflets and baring his buttocks in the name of the Lord. Prophets often spoke truth to power, which meant their lot was by no means always a happy one, often resulting in mockery, tribulations and violent deaths. And these English prophets proved no exception to this tragic rule. 

Join Melanie King, author of Prophets, Seers & Visionaries (Quercus, 2009), as she shares the strange belief systems that ruled the lives of these prophets and their many followers.

£10 for individual talk

The Mock Delivery of Joanna

Sunday 14 April, 2024
7pm (GMT)
After the Gold Rush: My Californian Mining Adventure (140 years too late)
GUEST SPEAKER: Jeremy Burton

News of the discovery of gold in California in 1848 signalled the start of the world’s first gold rush. Within the year of 1849 alone, the new American territory’s population swelled five-fold as eighty thousand ‘Argonauts’ hurried there in the hope of claiming a share of its golden riches. Many more followed, including Jeremy Burton who arrived in California 145 years later hoping to claim his share. Jeremy’s fully-illustrated, entertaining talk is a mixture of ancient and modernAncient being an account of the 1849 gold rush, and modern being that of his adventures in the 1990s prospecting for gold in Venezuela and Colombia, then mining in California.

Jeremy graduated from Durham University with a degree in geology. He then joined the army and served as an officer in the Irish Guards spending two years with the Queen Mother as her equerry. On returning to civilian life he worked as an exploration geologist in South Africa then, on qualifying as a gemologist, as a precious stone dealer in London’s Hatton Garden.

NB: THIS TALK WILL NOT BE RECORDED

£10 for individual talk

Mining on the Sacramento River

Sunday 28 April, 2024
7pm (GMT)
‘The Drink that Cheers but Doesn’t Intoxicate’: How the English Fell in Love with Tea
SPEAKER: Melanie King

Tea is so adored in England that tea-drinking has become almost synonymous with the English. England even celebrates National Tea Day each year on April 21. However, not everyone embraced tea when it was first introduced as a new drink in the middle of the 1600s. Melanie King, author of Tea, Coffee & Chocolate: How We Fell in Love with Caffeine (Bodleian Library, 2015), shares some of the sceptical early reactions to tea by people who believed it would, among other things, shrink their testicles, boil their blood, and make women ‘peevish’. On the other hand, tea had ardent supporters such as Dr Samuel Johnston, a ‘hardened and shameless tea drinker’ who claimed his kettle scarcely had time to cool before his next cup was prepared. This presentation will look at why tea was so feared, its effects on the health of the nation during the Industrial Revolution, and why today it is still so embedded in the culture of England.

£10 for individual talk

drinking tea
Bodleian Library Publishing

This event is sponsored by Bodleian Library Publishing.