The Historian Embodied

Dressing in historical clothes can reveal things about the past that no book can.

A Young English Woman, by Hans Holbein the Younger, 16th century © Ashmolean Museum, Oxford/Bridgeman Images.

When TV producers suggest that I put on historical costume, I tend to recoil. In part this is so as not to step on Lucy Worsley’s toes and I’m sure it’s partly vanity; certain I really wouldn’t suit a gable hood (the Tudor headdress that looks like a jewel-encrusted birdhouse). But it’s also about wanting to be seen as a ‘Serious and Proper’ historian: and dressing up doesn’t seem to help that cause. 

I couldn’t, however, escape the latest offer and although, at first, I felt a bit foolish, I learnt much from it. For it turns out there is a world of difference between an intellectual and an embodied understanding and I learnt things that I could never have otherwise known.

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