Meet the historians

Posted on 7 June 2012

Leading historians will share new insights at the Festival of Ideas with a series of readings, discussions and book signings.

Talks will range on subjects from mythical rebellions, feisty Tudor women, sinister Elizabethan spymasters and medieval medical practices, to lost Indian emperors and the elusive search for happiness. Free tickets are available on

Alison Weir, the novelist and historian makes a welcome return to York on 17th June at 2.30pm. Weir retains a wide following of loyal readers. All of her books are best-sellers in the UK. In 2007, she completed her first novel Innocent Traitor, based on the life of Lady Jane Grey (1537–1554). Her second novel is The Lady Elizabeth which deals with the life of Queen Elizabeth I before her ascension to the throne. The Captive Queen was released in the summer of 2010 and is about Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Weir will give a talk on the three subjects covered in her new novel, Dangerous Inheritance:  Lady Katherine Grey, Lady Katherine Plantagenet (illegitimate daughter of Richard III), and the mystery of the Princes in the Tower. The over-arching theme is 'innocent blood' imperilled by being too close to the throne. She will also look at the writing of historical fiction, and how historical sources can be used to create a novel such as this.

On 18th June at 6pm, Mark Ormrod and John Cooper from the Department of History, University of York, have both recently published highly-acclaimed books on King Edward III, the mighty hero of the battle of Crecy, and on Francis Walsingham, secretary and spymaster to Elizabeth I.

Joining Dave Musgrove, editor of BBC History Magazine, they will explore both the personalities of their subjects and the nature of royal power in medieval and Tudor England.
This event will be followed by a drinks reception and book signing and then Derry Nairn will take to the stage to present his most recent book exploring the nature of people based rebellions. Nairn is an acclaimed historian, freelance writer and broadcaster. Nairn will present his new book, Viva la Revolution!

Revolution is in the air. Throughout the Middle East, across Europe, America and beyond, 2011 was a year of mass uprising, of communal protest, sometimes violent suppression and above all a burning desire for change. Yet these events are not without precedent. History is rich with stories of people power in action, some immortalised in national myths, others long forgotten or victims of repressive censors.

From Spartacus’ famous uprising against the Romans in 73BC to the Arab Spring of 2011, Viva la Revolution! spans centuries and continents to examine 30 revolutions that have forged global superpowers, shaken empires, brought a halt to oppression, upended social divisions, established the first independent black nation and given birth to cultures, ideologies and idols.

Alongside era-defining events such as the French and American revolutions, Derry Nairn brings to light hidden protests and assesses the continued importance of revolutions such as the Irish uprising of 1798 that ultimately failed, but which nevertheless help us understand our modern world in revolt.

On Wednesday 20th June the festival explores with William and Helen Bynum Great Discoveries in Medicine, an account of the evolution of medical knowledge and practice from ancient Egypt, India and China to today’s latest technology.

From letting blood to keyhole surgery, or the theory of humours to the genetic revolution, this book shows what progress has been made through history and explain medicine’s turning points and conceptual changes.

On 25th June at 6pm, Charles Allen will present his compelling new book Ashoka: The Search for India's Lost Emperor, which explores how India’s greatest emperor was lost to history for two thousand years and how he was rediscovered.

In a wide-ranging, multi-layered journey of discovery that is as much about Britain's entanglement with India as it is about India's distant past, Charles Allen tells the story of the man who was arguably the greatest ruler India has ever known.

This event will be followed by a book signing and drinks reception. Then it is the turn of Guardian columnist, Oliver Burkeman, giving an account of his new book, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.

After years of reporting on the fields of psychology and self-help, Guardian columnist Oliver Burkeman has arrived at the conclusion that our efforts in trying to be happy are precisely what makes us so miserable. For a civilisation so fixated on achieving happiness, we seem remarkably incompetent at the task. Self-help books don’t seem to work. Few of the many advantages of modern life seem capable of lifting our collective mood. Wealth – even if you can get it – doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness. Romance, family life and work often seem to bring as much stress as joy. We can’t even agree on what ‘happiness’ means. So are we engaged in a futile pursuit? Or are we just going about it in exactly the wrong way? What if it’s our constant efforts to feel happy that are making us miserable?

In his fascinating new book, Oliver Burkeman introduces us to an unusual collection of people – experimental psychologists and Buddhists, terrorism experts, spiritual teachers, business consultants, philosophers – who share a single, surprising way of thinking about life. They argue that ‘positive thinking’ and relentless optimism aren’t the solution, but part of the problem. And that there is an alternative, ‘negative path’ to happiness and success that involves embracing failure, pessimism, insecurity and uncertainty – those things we spend our lives trying to avoid. Thought-provoking, counter-intuitive and ultimately uplifting, The Antidote is a celebration of the power of negative thinking.

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