September 6th 2023 in Cundill history hub

Partnership Focus: HistoryExtra

The Cundill History Prize partners with leading media organisations to bring the best history writing to international audiences.

We talk to Ellie Cawthorne, podcast editor at our partner HistoryExtra, home of Britain’s bestselling history magazines (BBC History Magazine and BBC History Revealed) and award-winning podcast.

Cropped History Extra Logo 9906Edc F5Aff54 Ellie Cawthorne Headshot

HistoryExtra is collaborating with the Cundill History Prize to give a platform to the best history writing being produced today. Why does this matter to you?

Great history writing is at the very heart of what we do at HistoryExtra – authors and historians sharing their work is the lifeblood of our podcast. Like the Cundill History Prize team, we’re passionate about sharing the very best historical research with as many people as possible. And, as our editorial team know all too well, making complex and nuanced historical findings accessible to a wide audience can be just as much of a challenge as conducting the research in the first place!

Tell us a bit more about your own role at HistoryExtra. What does a day in your working life look like?

What’s amazing about working for the HistoryExtra podcast is that every day offers a chance to take a deep dive into a different historical subject – sometimes the topic is an old favourite (anything Victorian for me), but other times it’s completely new, unexpected and illuminating. I spend my days rifling through huge piles of history books on the hunt for fascinating new stories, reading up on interview topics, editing, and planning what podcast series we have coming down the pipeline. Of course, one of my favourite parts of the job is interviewing historians about their research on a whole range of topics. This week, I’m moving between Georgian scandals, Charles Dickens, and the history of fear, so there’s never a dull day!

How has the space for history writing developed over the last few years? What role can prizes such as the Cundill History Prize play in this?

In my former role as books editor for BBC History Magazine and now as podcast editor for HistoryExtra, it’s been interesting to see how the historical publishing industry has developed over the last few years. Certainly there have been abiding trends (the interest in and abundance of stories from the Second World War shows no sign of abating any time soon), but the changes have been noticeable too. Although there’s still a very long way to go when it comes to diversity, in the last couple of years I do think that publishers have seemed increasingly open to a wider range of historical stories than have traditionally been given airtime, and willing to support a greater diversity of voices. The more varied the stories are that get told, the more exciting the field looks set to become. Prizes like the Cundill play a really important role in highlighting that wide range of cutting-edge historical writing, and shining a spotlight on the great work being done by academics across the globe.

Which longlisted book are you most looking forward to reading, and why?

As an avowed fan of 20th-century social history, whose knowledge of China is a bit dusty, I’m really looking forward to reading Tania Branigan’s Red Memory: Living, Remembering and Forgetting in China’s Cultural Revolution. But the great thing about the Cundill longlist is that it’s always full of surprises, and often it’s the book you didn’t quite see coming that captures your imagination and transports you to an unexpected past.

Ellie Cawthorne is HistoryExtra's podcast editor.