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Interview for the Parallel Histories project

As well as Parallel Histories' specialism of how to teach bitterly contested histories, the interview covered many other subjects.


Interview recorded 9 November 2020. Posted 12 March 2021.

Parallel Histories is a project founded by Michael Davies, a schoolteacher who I met in 2015 when I did a talk on behalf of Speakers for Schools at Lancaster Royal Grammar School. See my page “Have British Conservative governments attacked Muslims overseas?”.

I donate to Parallel Histories, which is a charity, annually.

Michael recently asked me if I would give an interview to Mary Ormerod who is blog editor at the project. I readily agreed to do so and was interviewed over Zoom.

While the interview did cover the concepts underlying Parallel Histories, it was much more wide-ranging.

There is a written version of the interview published on 1 December 2020 on the Parallel Histories blog page “Teaching the history is absolutely vital” Because Mary had the recording available, it is very accurate.

You can also watch my recording of the interview below.

Underneath the interview I have paraphrased the questions with indicative timings. As well as providing a quick overview of what the interview covers, it enables you to home in on any issue that particularly interests you.


Approximate transcript of the questions with timings

The questions below are not transcribed precisely because it was a relatively informal conversation.

1. We began by Mary commenting on how I have used self-isolation during the coronavirus pandemic to learn a new skill, basic video editing.

2. Mary gives some background about herself and her involvement with Parallel Histories. One of her comments leads me to explain how I first developed an interest in law. 02:37

3. Does an interest in law make the job more enjoyable? 05:43

I explain how interesting I found studying case law, and how a deep knowledge of law helped me in my career as a tax adviser.

4. What led me to get involved with Parallel Histories? 08:54

5. Of all of the conflicts one could choose, what do you think is the value of teaching the Israel / Palestine conflict? 11:08

6. What was your personal experience of studying History, both at school and as an adult? 13:02

7. The historical sources that you mentioned, such as Winston Churchill, sound very “establishment.” Were you able to tap into history through family members? Or into other parts of history that don’t get covered as much in the historical canon? 16:25

8. What do you think of the campaigns presently underway to “Decolonise the curriculum”? 17:40

In my answer, I talk about Curriculum for Cohesion, and explain the importance of identifying the important "absence." I also point out how history is often presented in a distorted manner. As an example, I mention how Britain never stood “alone” in World War II.

9. Is the continued teaching of the kind of distorted History you have mentioned just laziness, or is it a deliberate approach by people in power to promote just one narrative? 21:30

10. Is this resistance to changing History teaching linked to Islamophobia in the Conservative Party? 23:29

11. What would break the cycle of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party and in politics more generally? 24:27

12. What do you think of the way that antisemitism in the Labour Party is being handled at the moment? 25:47

13. Do accusations of Islamophobia and antisemitism against mainstream politicians all stem from the same source or are they quite different issues? 27:57

My reply was interrupted by a phone call. I have cut that out of the published video!

During my answer, I explain Boris Johnson’s ignorance of Islamic history as evidenced by the chapter “And Then Came the Muslims” in his book “The Dream of Rome.”

14. What about the policies of the government over the last couple of decades; are the policies themselves Islamophobic? 31:40

15. Has the nature of public discourse changed in the past few years? If so, what has that change been? 33:56

16. Is there any link between Boris Johnson’s denial that he ever said during the EU referendum campaign that Turkey was joining the EU and his lack of knowledge about the history of Islam? Alternatively, is there a pattern here of him just not knowing very much? 36:23

17: How can we at a grassroots level train the next generation of young people so that they can do a better job at public discourse? 37:41

During my reply, I explained the benefits of the Parallel Histories approach, and mentioned my experiences of talking to Muslim audiences about the Israel / Palestine dispute.

18. How does one balance teaching History and teaching Religion? [Mary mentions that her own education was very secular.]

19. In your career you’ve worked in business for a long time. Do these subjects (Religion and History) affect your professional life? 45:24

20. Did you ever feel discriminated against? 48:12

21. Large businesses, large law firms etc. are starting to take diversity very seriously and invest in it. What do you think about that? Will it be of benefit? 51:49

22. What do you think about political diversity in business teams? 54:42

23. Do you remember any History teacher, or teachers generally, in your life as particularly good at their jobs and extraordinary teachers? 55:37

I respond by reminiscing about a particularly memorable school Further Mathematics lesson! The topic I mentioned, that inside a spherical hollow shell there is no net gravitational force from the shell, is explained in the Wikipedia article "Shell theorem."


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