Shooting the Victorians – Kate Colquhoun


“I think what is interesting to me is being able to communicate history in an extremely rigorous and scholarly way – never making stuff up, never leaving any stone unturned, never refusing to question what needs to be questioned – endlessly, in fact – but there is nothing wrong, in fact there is everything right in my mind, in being able to communicate that in the most compulsive and seductive way possible. To make history alive.” – Kate Colquhoun

I am becoming increasingly fascinated by how the Victorians are perceived and portrayed, outside of strict academic boundaries and as someone who is a passionate believer in the importance of public history, I love seeing how any form of media reinterprets and examines popular perceptions of the nineteenth century. There have been a number of great articles on JVC Online, exploring how the BBC TV series, ‘Ripper Street’, has tried to recreate the realities of life in late Victorian London, and as the series sadly draws to a close, I started to look around for something to fill the void, which was when Murder on The Victorian Railway’, BBC 2, Thursday 21st February at 9 p.m, caught my eye.

As a dramtisation of Kate Colquhoun’s brilliant book, Mr Brigg’s Hat’, this one off programme will explore the first reported railway murder in the United Kingdom. I really enjoyed the original work – painstaking research and easily accessible intellectual prose is something I am always a fan of – and so contacted the author to see if she would be willing to be interviewed about her book, and the new adaptation.

The result is an interview that covers everything from ways to write history, how narrative or ‘popular’ history is often denigrated by the academic establishment, and the processes involved in bring history to the screen.  If you are interested in the debates surrounding public history, historians in the media, or – like me –  a struggling PhD student facing a writing crisis, this is a must-watch, holding some fascinating insights into the processes we go through, and how history should always inspire you.

With huge thanks to Kate Colquhoun, author of a number of books including, ‘Mr Briggs Hat’, and, ‘A Thing in Disguise: The Visionary life of Joseph Paxton’. You can follow her on twitter: @wearyhousewife

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