On the Spot: Catherine Fletcher

What will future generations judge us most harshly for? Abandoning the rule that truth matters in public life.

Fall of the Berlin Wall, November 1989. Wiki Commons.

Why are you a historian of the Renaissance?
I went on holiday to Florence and needed an excuse to go back.

What’s the most important lesson history has taught you?
People are complicated.

Which history book has had the greatest influence on you?
Garrett Mattingly’s Renaissance Diplomacy (1955), a foundational text in its field but also written for a general readership.

What book in your field should everyone read?
Lois Schwoerer’s Gun Culture in Early Modern England (2016): a study of the origins of the debates about gun control still taxing the US today.

Which moment would you most like to go back to?
The fall of the Berlin Wall.

Which historian has had the greatest influence on you?
Susan Brigden was the external examiner of my PhD and has been a wonderful inspiration, both personally and intellectually.

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

How many languages do you have?
About five, ranging from fluent to basic menu competence.

What’s the most exciting field in history today?
I would say this, but the history of war is making a big comeback, with lots of new thinking.

What historical topic have you changed your mind on?
Whether women had a Renaissance.

Which genre of history do you like least?
Economic history, which is a pain because it’s often very useful.

Is there an important historical text you have not read?
There are a lot of texts that I’ve searched on archive.org and never read in full.

What’s your favourite archive?
The Vatican, so I can pretend to friends my life is a Dan Brown novel.

What’s the best museum?
The Museum of London got me back into history after a long period out.

Normans or Anglo-Saxons? The Normans, ideally in Sicily.

Rome or Athens? Rome.

Braudel or Gibbon?
Gibbon, if only for the multiple Decline and Fall jokes he made possible.

Michelangelo or Frida Kahlo?
As it happens, I have my eye on a Frida Kahlo print skirt.

What is the most common misconception about your field?
That our research trips to Italy are holidays.

What will future generations judge us most harshly for?
Abandoning the rule that truth matters in public life.


Catherine Fletcher is Professor of History at Manchester Metropolitan University and the author of The Beauty and the Terror: an Alternative History of the Italian Renaissance (Bodley Head, 2020).