Histories of the Unexpected for home-schoolers

One of the country’s leading history podcasts is to release a new series of programmes dedicated to children who are being home-schooled during the coronavirus crisis.

Dr Sam Willis and Professor James Daybell, the creators of the hugely popular Histories of the Unexpected series, will produce Homeschooling Specials every week catering for children, parents and teachers in the current national lockdown.

They are also launching a campaign to engage youngsters in ‘oral history’ and are encouraging them to interview their grandparents online and over the phone to find out about their own lives, memories and reflections on their past. They hope this will make a valuable contribution to reducing the impact of social isolation.

“We are living through something that could possibly become a defining chapter in tomorrow’s history books,” 

said James, who is a Professor of Early Modern British History at the University of Plymouth. 

“And as the United Kingdom – and much of the world – enters this unprecedented period of isolation, it’s become very important to support one another using digital channels. Through our Homeschooling Specials, we’re supporting history teaching and hoping to stimulate the imaginations of budding young historians.” 

Launched in September 2016, Histories of the Unexpected has been a huge success and took just a year to reach one million downloads. It has now been downloaded in more than 150 countries, and James and Sam have gone on to complete more than 50 live shows.

Among the topics that the pair have covered include: how the history of the beard is connected to the Crimean War; how the history of paperclips is all about the Stasi; how the history of bubbles (and also cats) are all about the French Revolution; and how the Titanic, the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Ground Zero are all connected, and what they have to do with Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.

The first episode of the Homeschooling Specials covers the awakening of James’ own historical interest and how he is now engaging his children in the subject. As part of that, he outlines the wealth of material there is available to anyone with access to the internet, such as virtual tours, books and engaging websites.

“Our aim will be to record several episodes a week,” 

adds Sam, who is an author and television presenter who has made a string of major TV series for the BBC and National Geographic including The Silk Road, Maritime China Reborn, and Shipwrecks: Britain’s Sunken History. 

“And through the campaign, we’re hoping to engage our young historians in oral history. We’re encouraging kids to create their own history by interviewing their grandparents about their lives, memories and reflections on the past. Not only is this a great way to capture the imagination of youngsters, but at a time when elderly people, such as grandparents, are self-isolating this is the perfect way to encourage social contact online with groups of people who may be alone.”

For more details on Histories of the Unexpected, visit the acast website

Dr Sam Willis

An Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Plymouth, Dr Sam Willis is one of the country’s foremost historians. 

Passionate about the subject from an early age, he completed a PhD in Naval History, and then an MA in Maritime Archaeology, before working on the Hornblower TV series and on Channel 4’s award-winning film Shackleton. 

His first presenting role came in 2012, with Nelson’s Caribbean Hell Hole, a film for BBC4 about a mass sailors’ graveyard on a beach in Antigua. 

Sam has previously worked with masters students at the University of Plymouth on projects around public history, and from September 2016, is replicating that for undergraduate students on the BA (Hons) History course.

Professor James Daybell

James Daybell is Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Plymouth, Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and Director of the University’s Arts Institute

A world-leading academic and author, he teaches at both undergraduate and postgraduate level on modules relating to his research interests, which include Early Modern British and European History; Gender and Women’s History; and English Renaissance literature. 

He has been presented with a number of international awards and fellowships and has produced eight books and more than 30 articles and essays, with current projects including books on the family and materials of memory; gender and archives; and early modern gloves!