On the Spot: Averil Cameron

We ask 20 questions of leading historians on why their research matters, one book everyone should read and their views on the Tudors …

Why are you a historian of Byzantium?

I grew into it from ancient history and Late Antiquity. I always want to move on to something new.

What’s the most important lesson history has taught you?

That we need to understand the past if we want to understand the present, but also that over-simplified parallels between past and present do not work.

Which history book has had the greatest influence on you?

Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall.

What book in your field should everyone read?

The same. You don’t have to agree with Gibbon to admire him and find him a wonderful read.

Which moment would you most like to go back to?

No period was as comfortable as now. I would have hated the cold and draughts and not having access to tea and coffee.

Which historian has had the greatest influence on you?

Arnaldo Momigliano.

Which person in history would you most like to have met?

Procopius, so that I could ask him why he wrote the Secret History and how his works relate to each other.

How many languages do you speak?

Not enough, but I can read Greek and Latin really well.

What’s the point of counterfactualism?

It’s good for novelists, gamers and people who believe in the great men theory of history.

What’s the most exciting field in history today?

Global History.

What historical topic have you changed your mind on?

Too many to remember.

Which genre of history do you like least?

Narrative history. I like an argument.

Is there an important historical text you have not read?

I thought I would read the whole of St Augustine one day, but I haven’t even started it.

What’s your favourite archive?

Dumbarton Oaks in Washington DC.

What’s the best museum?

The Metropolitan in New York. Its location on Fifth Avenue and Central Park is so classy.

Tudors or Stuarts?


Normans or Anglo-Saxons?


Rome or Athens? 


Cromwell or Charles I?

Charles I.

Braudel or Gibbon?

Gibbon. But it was exciting to dicover Braudel and structuralism.

Averil Cameron was Warden of Keble College Oxford and Professor of Late Antique and Byzantine History at King’s College London. Her books include Byzantine Matters (Princeton, 2014).