From the Black Death to the age of populism – history festival is “brilliant”

FOR seven days in June, a quiet valley in Broad Chalke is transformed into the world’s largest history festival – and this year’s Daily Mail Chalke Valley History Festival promises to be even more exciting and stimulating, bringing history to life from the horrors of the Black Death to the challenges of staying sane in the age of populism.

Historian Peter Frankopan, author of the best selling The Silk Road”, says: “What you do is just brilliant – and so important for us historians, especially for those of us teaching at universities where funding for humanities is under real threat.”

From Monday 24th to Sunday 30th June, the festival is a unique combination of more than 150 talks, discussions and topical debates featuring internationally respected academics, historians, archaeologists, broadcasters and novelists, alongside a vast living history encampment.

Participants this year include the Dorset-based best-selling crime novelist Minette Walters, talking about the sequel to her magnificent debut historical novel, The Last Hours, about the early months of the Black Death in the south west, former foreign and war correspondent Martin Bell, Britain’s first female black professor of history Olivette Otele, and Ralph Northumberland, talking about the Percy family and Alnwick Castle. Comedian and actor Harry Enfield will be a panellist on the ever-popular comedy panel show, Histrionics, on the Friday night.

Festival favourites and well-known names returning this year include Neil Oliver, Victoria Hislop, Dan Snow, Kate Williams, Antonia Fraser, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Tracy Borman, Ben Macintyre, David Owen, Ian Hislop, Anita Anand and Niall Ferguson. The second CVHF Directors’ Lecture will be given by Rania Abouzeid, the internationally acclaimed journalist and Middle East expert, talking about the catastrophic civil war in Syria. International award-winning author and TED Global speaker Elif Shafak will ask how we remain sane in the age of populism.

The 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings will be marked at Chalke Valley this year and, to open the festival, there will be a special D-Day 75 morning to commemorate all those who fought in the Normandy campaign. For the first time, the festival will also be recreating a World War II trench. The scene will be set in late June in 1944 and members of the public will be thrown into a fly-on-the-wall scenario that will demonstrate the equipment, conditions and dangers facing British troops on the Normandy frontline. On the Sunday, there will be at least one talk linked to D-Day at every session.

In addition, the festival is creating a giant scale replica of the Hawker Typhoon aircraft, or the ‘Tiffy’ as it was known. This iconic wartime fighter plane will be dominating the hills surrounding the Chalke Valley this summer. Perched on the crest of the hill, overlooking the main festival site, the plane will be  four times the size of the original and will dominate the local landscape. Built in partnership with QinetiQ at the MOD Boscombe Down, and working alongside universities, colleges and schools across the region, this will be the largest and most accurate model World War II fighter plane ever built.

Against the backdrop of widespread political uncertainty and cultural change, it has never been more relevant to understand the rich and varied history of the British Isles. With this in mind, a major new five-year project, threading together the different strands of Britain’s history, will also be launched this year. Britain: The Thread of History 1603-2016 aims to link together many of the different strands of Britain’s story in a series of 35 talks, downloadable podcasts and chapters, which will combine into a single-volume book, published by Bantam Press in 2023. One copy of the book will be donated to every  secondary school in the country.