On the Spot: David Hendy
‘I change my mind – at least a little – after everything I read.’
Why are you a media historian?
I studied medieval history, then worked in current affairs at the BBC. Media history brings my two careers together.
What’s the most important lesson history has taught you?
We can’t say what’s changed unless we know what went before.
Which history book has had greatest influence on you?
As a medievalist, Rodney Hilton’s The English Peasantry; as a modernist, Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson.
What book in your field should everyone read?
Broadcast Over Britain by John Reith.
Which moment would you most like to go back to?
1922 and the first days of the BBC.
Which historian has had the greatest influence on you?
Which person in history would you most like to have met?
Richard II, the subject of my first, uncompleted, doctoral thesis.
How many languages do you have?
Just the one, alas.
What is the most common misconception about your field?
That it’s all about the ‘internal life’ of individual media, rather than their evolving relationship with wider culture.
What historical topic have you changed your mind on?
I change my mind – at least a little – after everything I read.
Which genre of history do you like least?
Constitutional or diplomatic history.
What’s the most exciting field in history today?
Everything that’s challenging simplistic notions of ethnic purity in the pre-modern period.
Is there an important historical text you have not read?
Too many to count.
What’s your favourite archive?
The BBC’s Written Archive Centre, Caversham.
What’s the best museum?
The Moesgaard Museum near Aarhus.
What technology has changed the world the most?
Broadcasting. It helped complete the work of democratising knowledge begun by the printing press.
The Mediterranean or the Indian Ocean?
Historical drama or documentary?
Drama, for its suggestiveness.
The Parthenon or Machu Picchu?
Elmina Fort in Ghana.
What will future generations judge us most harshly for?
Allowing the super-rich to get away with murder.
David Hendy is Emeritus Professor of Media and Cultural History at the University of Sussex and the author of The BBC: A People’s History (Profile Books, 2022).