The Unexpected History of the Tudors: out of the lecture theatre and into educational theatre

Histories of the Unexpected began as a weekly history podcast between the University of Plymouth’s Professor James Daybell and TV Presenter and historian Sam Willis as part of Dan Snow’s History Hit Network. The podcast grew quickly to success and resulted in a series of books written by Daybell and Willis, full to the brim with researched knowledge spanning from the Romans to World War Two. From the success of the podcast and the published book series, Daybell and Willis, with award winning playwright Daniel Jamieson, created a one-hour show based on the first book.

The creators have now developed, with a grant from the Strategic Investment Fund (SIF) facilitated by The Bridge at the University of Plymouth, a new creative and educational one-hour show based upon their book Histories of the Unexpected: The Tudors. The entertaining and educational show is now touring schools and other venues to extend the reach of the research as part of a major impact case study.

By presenting scholarly research through a creative and engaging one-hour show, highly academic content is made immediately accessible to a wide range of children and adults with a variety of learning abilities. The focus on making education and academic research accessible is at the very heart of the all the Histories of the Unexpected project. Taking well known historical periods and exploring them through obscure topics such as hats, windows and crowns, James Daybell and Sam Willis are presenting history through a new and fun perspective which has been proved to be incredibly successful.

“The idea is that everything has a history and those histories link together in unexpected ways. Take something like the history of the chair or the toilet and show that they have a history. But not in a kind of straight forward standard humanities type way, but in much more a creative way.”

James Daybell, Professor at The University of Plymouth

What is ‘The Unexpected History of the Tudors’?

  • An hour-long show boasting with a wealth of academic historical research, presented through an entertaining and educational performance from James Daybell and Sam Willis. 
  • The script was developed from James Daybell and Sam Willis’ Histories of the Unexpected: The Tudors by award-winning playwright Daniel Jamieson who also directed, staged and propped the show. 
  • A key example of the potential of the growing collaboration of academics and the creative economy within Plymouth.

How Knowledge Exchange has benefited this project

Working within a Knowledge Exchange environment has helped to enable Professor James Daybell to consider his research in different ways, namely how it could be communicated to a wider audience.

The impact of a collaboration between creative industries and academics has inspired a new way of learning which is inclusive, engaging and fun. The SIF funded project, ‘Histories of the Unexpected: The Tudors’ has proven that education and research doesn’t solely belong in classrooms, lecture theatres and academic papers. Learning is possible through a multitude of platforms which are accessible, entertaining and engaging, as Professor James Daybell and Sam Willis have proven.

“Having a community of people who are engaged with Knowledge Exchange encourages you to think about your research in a different dimension. As an academic, it’s a kind of clearing house, full of energy and ideas, a way you can connect academics to the creative industries.” 

James Daybell, Professor at the University of Plymouth