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Writing Popular History: Narrative, Perspective, and Audience – A Workshop with Dr Caroline Dodds Pennock

Geared towards non-specialist audiences and produced within the commercial economy of trade publishing, popular history engages with the cultural climate of the present day, with contemporary perspectives influencing which stories we tell and how we tell them. Accordingly, popular history presents unique opportunities and challenges for representing the past. Forming part of the wider Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society (LUCAS) conference “Narratives: Negotiating Meaning, Knowledge, and Identity”, this workshop focuses on the role of the popular historian in constructing narratives of the past.

The workshop will be led by Dr Caroline Dodds Pennock (Senior Lecturer in International History at the University of Sheffield) whose recent trade book, On Savage Shores: How Indigenous Americans Discovered Europe (2023), works to recover marginalised Indigenous voices and overturns the Western, colonial narrative of encounter. First, attendees will discuss and analyse the narrative strategies employed in the preparatory reading, before examining their own engagement with source materials and their role as historians in writing narratives of the past. The second part of the workshop will take the form of a Q&A with Dr Dodds Pennock, during which attendees have the opportunity to learn about the practicalities and requirements of popular-history writing and trade publishing.

This workshop is not limited to any one area of history.

Learning goals

Students will have gained more knowledge of the trade-publishing industry and have reflected on the challenges and opportunities presented by popular-history writing. Students will also have reflected upon the challenges and opportunities faced in their own research regarding their role as historians in shaping historical narratives.

Indicative programme

  • 9:00-11:00: a two-hour reflection and discussion of prepared reading, led by Dr Dodds Pennock
  • 11:00-11:30: coffee break and networking opportunity with conference speakers and delegates
  • 11:30-12:30: one-hour Q&A with Dr Dodds Pennock on the pragmatics of trade publishing, led by
    LUCAS member TBC
  • 12:45-13:30: Catered Lunch and networking opportunity with conference speakers and delegates
  • 14:45-16:30: Students are welcome to attend the remainder of the conference following the
  • 16:30-17:30: Dr Dodds Pennock will deliver the conference’s closing keynote

*Attendance to the conference is not charged, and it is not mandatory for obtaining ECTS.
However, spaces are likely to be limited and registration is necessary.

Assessment and assignments

1 ECT (28 hours) will be obtained through preparatory reading and participation in class discussion. Attendees will be expected to read at least 1 recently published popular-history book, and reflect on the ways in which the author engages the audience, their narrative choices, and the stories and material that may be centred, marginalised, or excluded by such choices. The choice of book is at the participants’ discretion: it can be chosen from the list of proposed literature or be another book the participant feels is appropriate, but it must be a recent text (published in the last 5 years), focusing on a historical topic and aimed at a popular audience. Participants are also required to listen to at least 1 episode of the Drafting the Past podcast (available on Apple, Spotify, and Google). Students should come to class prepared to reflect on the preparatory material and engage in class discussion. Should students have any issues accessing any preparatory materials, please contact the workshop co-ordinators.

Indicative literature (see ‘assessment and assignments’)

  • Nandini Das. Courting India: England, Mughal India and the Origins of Empire (Bloomsbury, 2023).
  • Caroline Elkins. Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire (Bodley Head, 2022).
  • Nick Estes. Our History Is The Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance (Verso, 2019).
  • Seb Falk. The Light Ages: The Surprising Story of Medieval Science (W.W. Norton, 2020).
  • Howard French. Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans, and the Making of the Modern World, 1471 to the Second World War (Liveright Publishing, 2021).
  • Elinor Cleghorn. Unwell Women: A Journey Through Medicine and Myth in a Man-Made World (Penguin, 2021).
  • Malcolm Gaskill. The Ruin of All Witches: Life and Death in the New World (Penguin 2022).
  • Toby Green. A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution (Penguin, 2019).
  • Saidiya Hartman. Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval (W.W. Norton, 2019).
  • Sudhir Hazareesingh. Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture (Allen Lane, 2020).
  • Cat Jarman. River Kings: The Vikings from Scandinavia to the Silk Roads (William Collins, 2021).
  • Katya Hoyer. Beyond the Wall: East Germany, 1949-1990 (Penguin Books Ltd, 2023).
  • Kyle T. Mays, An Afro-Indigenous History of the United States (Beacon Press, 2021).
  • Tiya Miles. All that she Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake. (Penguin Random House USA, 2021).
  • Joanne Paul. The House of Dudley: A New History of Tudor England (Penguin, 2022).
  • Serhil Plokhy. Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy (Penguin, 2019).
  • Hallie Rubenhold. The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper (Doubleday, 2019).
  • Sathnam Sanghera. Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain (Penguin, 2021).
  • Simon Schama. Foreign Bodies: Pandemics, Vaccines, and the Health of Nations (Ecco, 2023).
  • Tanya Talaga. All our Relations: Indigenous Trauma in the Shadow of Colonialism (Scribe Publications, 2020)

Register (0/20 spaces left)

This course is fully booked. For a spot on the waiting list, contact