Hey folks! Do you like reading history? I personally enjoy it. To me it’s stories as appealing as fictions but much more relevant. It’s fascinating, isn’t it, to read about events that our own ancestors once witnessed, reconstruct societies which were so distinctly different from ours yet still connected to ours through gradual stages of change, and ponder over the fact that today is part of the history which will be looked at by our descendants in the same way as we look at what we call history.
Recently, I was quite fortunate to come across two nice magazines about history, and would like to share in this post my review of them. I generally find myself enjoying both of them quite a lot.
The first magazine, History Today, seems to be a very old one whose origin could be traced back to the 1950s. Due to its own long history, it has accumulated through the years a huge vault of contents which have all been digitised and kept in its online archive. One of the subscription types of the magazine opens access to the whole online archive, at an annual subscription fee of 70 pounds. As the price is a little bit too high for me who is normally too busy to have time to take advantage of such wealth of contents, I am not subscribing to the online archive access. Some university libraries are subscribing to the online archive access but unfortunately my university isn’t. Therefore I haven’t yet had a chance to read those early contents published by this magazine. I believe it must be very interesting reads though as you’d basically be reading about how people in the 1950s viewed history.
The latest issues of the magazine, as far as I can tell, cover a vast diversity of topics. It’s probably still a bit eurocentric or even anglocentric, given that articles on general topics seem to assume a European if not even a British background. One article in the first issue I read, for example, which talks about the early origin of double-blind medical trials, only presents a background of the situation in Britain and never mentions the development of medical treatments elsewhere. However, that doesn’t mean it has no contents on history outside America and Europe, nor are the topics in any way confined to any specific time window. It also seems to be willing to cover lesser-known topics. One such example is found in an article about the last queen of the Sikh Empire, which goes beyond the popular history topics such as WWII and the Crusades, and was quite a new thing to me.
I have nothing to complain about the writing quality. The authors are usually academics, and most often either professors or research students, and undertake the job of explaining things quite well.
BBC History Magazine
The second magazine I came across is the BBC History Magazine. This one is even more exciting to me. It doesn’t have a long history comparable to that of History Today but it’s associated with BBC which is really a big plus for me. I’ve been a big fan of all kinds of history programmes from BBC, and enjoy both those TV programmes like Lucy Worsley’s documentary series and its radio/podcast programmes such as the Forum, In Our Times and You’re Dead to Me, many of which I even used as materials for English listening practice when I was preparing for my English tests as an undergraduate student. Now the exciting thing is that the magazine often features articles associated with its programmes and whenever this is the case links are provided in the magazine. Many of the writers have already been big fame stars of popular history, such as Dan Jones, Lucy Worsley and Mary Beard, who have already authored bestselling history books and appeared in a number of programmes.
Besides BBC’s channels, the magazine also has a podcast channel of its own. The channel updates at an incredible rate: new episodes are released every day and each is half an hour to an hour long. The guests invited to the programmes are again those same big names and the contents are sometimes related to articles in the magazine. There’re also special podcast series, like the recent Princes in the Tower which spends eight episodes to look into the mysterious disappearance of Edward V and his brother. One of the nice things worth mentioning about the special series is that they seem to be quite shrewd on choosing the guests. The guests themselves are experts on the topic but they sometimes have very different opinions, making it clear which issues are still under ongoing debates among the academics. By the way, History Today also has its own podcast channel, but it seems that it updates only quite occasionally.
Regarding the contents of the magazine itself, the main part is similar to that of History Today, but beyond that it gives me the feeling that it is intended to be appealing to lay readers. It also gives me the impression that history is a subject that’s still progressing with a tightly knit community. The beginning few pages of each issue include news related to history, sometimes archaeology discoveries and sometimes even measures taken by museums against the pandemic. There’s also a page featuring some heated online discussions about some history topics, which I believe makes me feel those people behind history study more relatable.
The magazine also has topical special issues. Many popular topics, ranging from the Napoleonic Wars to the Age of Discovery, all have their own exclusive special issue, with around a hundred pages of beautifully illustrated articles dedicated to them. I feel that they would serve as very good materials whenever I want to learn more about a specific topic.
One more thing that I like much about the magazine is that it offers quite a bargain on its mobile app. Besides regular subscriptions and single issue purchase, there is an option to ‘complete your collection’ which opens access to all past issues, including the special ones, merely at a cost of 60+ dollars.
This is an informal review of two nice history magazines I have recently come to know. In the future I’m probably also going to talk about some interesting history books I’ve read. If you are also interested in history, let’s read about it together!