On the Spot: Helen Castor

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

Because I love medieval history. There are lots of ways in which the period is important, but the only reason to spend your life in a particular part of the past is if you can’t imagine doing anything else.

What’s the most important lesson history has taught you?
If you want to understand something, start with the most basic questions you can think of. They matter, and they’re overlooked more often than you’d think. 

Which history book has had the greatest influence on you?
Norman Davis’ edition of the Paston Letters. Such scholarship, such a wealth of humanity and language, and so frustratingly non-chronological. It taught me how much I value narrative.

What book in your field should everyone read?
I’d love everyone to read the Paston Letters. (In fact, if anyone would like to commission a complete modernised version, I’m ready and waiting...) Otherwise, Eamon Duffy’s Stripping of the Altars.

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