David Starkey is the latest historian to get in on the action of YouTube. Viewers will be familiar with him, of course, from his media presence (on television, radio, and in print); now, he has begun a YouTube series, the scope of which includes English political and social history – with a focus, as one would expect, on the Tudor period. However, Starkey Talks provides exhaustively researched information on such topics as the early Churchills and the development of historiography – and how and how not to approach historical subjects. The channel has something to offer for students and teachers alike.
Starkey, as I’m sure he would admit, does traditional history (significantly leavened with a dry sense of humour and brusque attitude towards those more colourful enthusiasts who indulge in historical conspiracy theories). This is not a flaw – the Tudors (and other topics discussed) retain incredible popularity and thus Starkey’s subjects will have considerable appeal.
One of the greatest challenges in finding useful YouTube content has always been sorting the wheat from the chaff. This is made easier when the person creating content has a weight of academic accreditation and an acknowledged specialism in their field. For every accurate video on Henry VIII, there will be five questionable ones repeating old myths, pieced together by content creators who rely on secondary sources (or, in some cases, films). However, one can trust, for example, Starkey’s judgement on Thomas Cromwell, Sir Thomas More and his tour-de-force study of William Cecil. He knows these men, in as far as they can be known, and he certainly knows the period. Few can talk about the Tudors with such authority.
Following the pandemic, students will be more than familiar with the format of the video lecture. There will also be viewers, like me, who found YouTube an agreeable way of passing time during the various lockdowns. We are thus all well used to judging performances. Happily, it’s clear that Starkey, a veteran lecturer, knows how to hold audience’s attention; he is able to talk to viewers rather than at them. Time spent in his company will not be time wasted. Those seeking to widen their knowledge of English history will find a warm welcome – and a slew of fascinating facts – here, delivered in Starkey’s inimitable, acerbic style.
When Starkey talks, one should listen.
Steven Veerapen is a historian and academic and author of Queen’s Gold.