Historians are at war over 'old-fashioned' flagship series

Historians in the News

TELEVISION historian Neil Oliver has been likened to a “pygmy on a giant’s territory” by a leading academic as the bitter row over the BBC’s flagship A History of Scotland series intensifies.

Jenny Wormald, honorary fellow in Scottish History at Edinburgh University, has joined the debate about the authenticity and quality of the series while revealing she left her role as advisor to the programme after just two meetings.

She also condemned recent comments by Mr Oliver, who launched a personal attack on the eminent historian Professor Tom Devine after the academic was critical of the series.

The distinguished historian questioned the “scant” handling of subjects such as the Enlightenment and also referred to Mr Oliver as “hapless” and having a “sad lack of authority”.

Ms Wormald writes in a letter in today’s Herald: “Professor Devine’s critique was directed mainly towards the series, not the presenter.

“Perhaps he might have been wiser to scale down his comments on Oliver, but these were little compared to Oliver’s extraordinary outburst in response, in its level of personal abuse and its lurid attack on the ‘narrow range’ of a historian famed for having done more than anyone to bring Scottish history – the Scottish history worth hearing and thinking about – so far out of the confines of Oliver’s contemptuously dismissive ‘classroom’.”

She contrasted the series with Diarmaid MacCulloch’s “outstanding” History of Christianity and the recent Tudor series by David Starkey, whom she described as a “highly gifted historian”...

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