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Peter Marshall: Public Engagement

Among the major academic disciplines, History is uniquely placed to engage with a wide and genuine public interest in its findings and contentions. For practicing professional historians, this is a privilege and a pleasure, but also a serious obligation. In my own work - on the Reformation, on the cultural and political history of Britain in the early modern period, and on the nature of popular beliefs in the past - I have for many years attempted to reach beyond a narrowly academic audience and to disseminate such expertise as I have outside the pages of scholarly journals and books. This page describes some of these activities.

Heritage and Public History

I have spoken about my research and publications at a number of national and public events, including the Oxford Literary Festival and the Throckmorton Literary Festival. I took part in a 2009 public debate at Norwich Cathedral on the significance of the Reformation, and I have twice addressed audiences of National Trust Volunteers and others at Coughton Court in Warwickshire. In 2011 I helped organize, and chaired, a debate on 'which was the period of greatest change in English history?' at the Warwick Words Literature Festival, and spoke at it again about my research in 2013. In September 2014, I delivered two public lectures in Vancouver, hosted by the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University. In May 2016 I spoke alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury at a Symposium on Thomas Becket at Lambeth Palace, to coincide with the visit to the UK from Hungary of the saint's surviving relics.

In a contribution to theatrical culture, I have provided programme essays on historical themes for productions of The Lightning Play at the Almeida Theatre in London, and of Macbeth for the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, and advised the company Third Angel on their 2015 production, The Paradise Project.

I was extensively involved in the public commemoration (2009) of the quincentennary of the accession of Henry VIII. For the exhibition at the British Library, I contributed numerous display captions, as well as an essay and nine short entries for the exhibition catalogue on Henry VIII: Man and Monarch. For Hampton Court Palace, I wrote an online essay on Death in Henry VIII's England, and was filmed for a series of interviews on the Palace Website (viewable here).

Other uses of new media to popularise my work include both podcast and i-cast recordings relating to my research on the history of angels, a series of short Youtube interviews linked to my publications on the Reformation, and a number of essays for two interactive CD-Roms on Pilgrims and Pilgrimage and The English Parish Church, produced by the York-based Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture.



Print: I am a regular reviewer on a range of topics for the Times Literary Supplement, The Tablet and the Literary Review (for a sample, see here). I have also published articles in the Church Times, and in the popular history periodicals History Today and BBC History Magazine (the latter in July 2010 also featured my Journal of Ecclesiastical History article, 'The Reformation of Hell', in its section on 'the best stories from academic periodicals').

Radio: I have contributed to a Radio 3 documentary on late medieval chantries, entitled 'An Obligation of Love', and also to an edition of the flagship arts programme, Nightwaves, discussing the history and theology of angels in the context of Danielle Trussoni's blockbuster novel, Angelology. Also for Radio 3, in April 2009 I wrote and presented an edition of 'The Essay', on the theme of Henry VIII's religion, and in March 2012 took part in a panel discussion on William Byrd and Catholicism. For Radio 4, I developed the concept for, and contributed to, an episode of the series Forbidden Families in August 2008. I am also a regular on-air contributor to BBC Coventry and Warwickshire, particularly its Sunday morning programming, where I have been interviewed on such diverse topics as ghosts, the Gunpowder Plot in the Midlands, angels, and the history of Halloween. In 2015, I contributed to a discussion of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall on BBC Radio Ulster, and gave interviews on the Reformation to the Irish commercial channels Newstalk and Dublin City FM.

Television: in the early days of BBC 4, I presented a documentary entitled 'What If? The Reformation', positing an alternative history of England in which Henry VIII never broke with Rome. Subsequently, I have appeared in a couple of episodes of a series (2011-12) on Channel 4: Tony Robinson's Gods and Monsters. I regularly act as a consultant to television producers and researchers on themes around the Reformation, Tudor England, and popular beliefs in the past.


Community and Schools

I am always happy to speak to school sixth-formers, and in recent years have given talks at Hills Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge, Kenilworth School, Leicester Grammar School, Oundle School, Portsmouth Grammar School, Trinity Catholic School, Leamington, Charterhouse School, Stowe School, Worcester Grammar School and Shrewsbury School. I am a regular lecturer at A Level history conferences organized by Premier Student Conferences, Keynote Education, and Sovereign Education.

In 2010 I co-ordinated the recording of a series of podcasts (involving three Warwick colleagues) for the Historical Association's 'Student Zone' web-pages on the theme of The Reformation. I have written essays on Cardinal Wolsey and Gunpowder Plot for the sixth-form journals History Review and Modern History Review.

Other community-oriented activities include regular lectures to local Historical Association branches: in Bristol, Norwich, Coventry, Chichester (the John Fines Memorial Lecture 2011), and Oxford (the Marjorie Reeves Memorial Lecture 2012). I have also spoken to the Dugdale Society, and to an 'Open Museum' course at the National Maritime Museum. I have also addressed various church communities about aspects of (their) religious history: I was a panelist in 2009 at an event organized by my colleague Professor Beat Kümin on the history of Catholic Warwick, took part in 2013 in a symposium on the history of Berkswell church and parish, and in 2014 gave the annual address at St Dunstan's church, Canterbury, on the anniversary of the execution of St Thomas More.