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Five Minutes With… Dr Miranda Kaufmann

Dr. Miranda Kaufmann is a graduate of Christ Church, Oxford, where she wrote her D.Phil. thesis on “Africans in Britain, 1500-1640”, and got two winning Rugby Blues.  She is now a freelance historian and journalist in London. Her latest project is the Influential Black Londoners exhibition, on at National Trust Sutton House, Hackney, 29 September-30 November 2013.  She will be speaking on the Image and Reality of Black Africans in Renaissance England with Michael Ohajuru  at the University of Greenwich on Tuesday 19th November, 4pm  and giving the Centre for European and International Studies Research (CEISR) Annual Lecture, on Africans in Port Towns, 1500-1640 at the University of Portsmouth on Tuesday 3rd December, 5pm. For more information about these events and her work, see her website www.mirandakaufmann.com

What is an historian?

A historian is someone who searches out, evaluates and communicates evidence of what happened in the past.

 What made you decide to pursue a career in history?miranda kauffman

I think it’s important to follow your heart in life and enjoy what you do (otherwise you might not do it very well) – and I have always loved History. I love finding out new things and telling people about them. That makes it sound like gossiping-which it is, in a way, but about dead people, and with hindsight! So, can I say that History chose me?

 What is the one history book you simply couldn’t do without?

It’s impossible to choose just one. Partly because History is a dialogue- or sometimes an argument!

Do you have a favourite website for historical research (or procrastination)? Why?

Other than my own (resist urge to plug www.mirandakaufmann.com)? There’s some really exciting websites that have made it much easier to search original documents- such as British History Online; State Papers Online; Old Bailey Online and London Lives. The digitisation of these sorts of sources will revolutionise research in our lifetimes, especially for topics such as mine, where you’re looking for things other than names, dates and places (the categories which traditional catalogues are arranged by).

 What is your favourite historical place?

Again, this is a hard one. Anywhere Tudor is high up- Hampton Court, Sutton House in Hackney, Plas Mawr in Conwy, Gwydir Castle near Llanrwst. I also adore Cartagena in Columbia, some of the ancient villages of Brittany, anywhere where you, as Natalie Grueninger of www.onthetudortrail.com has put it, are only separated from the past by time, but not space- which leads rather neatly to your next question…

You have a time machine for 24 hours, where do you go?

I imagine I could cover quite a lot of ground in 24 hours, so I’d have to visit as many places as possible. One of the things I’d want to do is solve some mysteries. I wrote a long essay about Amy Robsart (Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester’s wife) at school, so I’d have to go back to Cumnor Place on September 8th 1560, to see how she really died. I’d also want to be in the court room during some of the cases I’ve studied such as Cartwright, 1569, Wynter vs. Bucke, 1597, Longcastle, 1609, and Somerset, 1772. And finally, I’d have to attend some of the greatest spectacles and parties- such as the Westminster Tournament of 1511, the Field of the Cloth of Gold (1520), the Delhi Durbar of 1911, or VE Day 1945.

Your period of expertise no longer exists. Which historical period would you research instead?

Probably the 18th century. I am a big fan of Hogarth.

Why is history important today?

History is important today because it explains the world around us in a way that other subjects can’t. Furthermore, the study of history teaches a health scepticism about the sources of information, which is an increasingly vital tool in the Information Age, where we are all constantly bombarded with more “facts” than we can handle!

Finally, what is your best historical fact?

Again, difficult to name a favourite, but there’s one I always used to quote when people told me History was boring. Here it is: “Did you know that during the British Civil Wars, a man got beaten to death with his own wooden leg”? http://www.british-civil-wars.co.uk/biog/aston.htm

Less gruesome and more thought provoking perhaps is this: Before the 1620s there were more Britons resident in North Africa than in North America.



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