The Mancunion

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Manchester’s got Wood: University hires TV historian

World renowned historian, Michael Wood, has made over a hundred documentaries and will teach at The University of Manchester from September

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World renowned BBC historian Michael Wood will be teaching at The University of Manchester from September.

Wood’s career has seen him present over a hundred documentaries in three decades, broadcast in over 150 countries. He will become Professor of Public History at the University.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I’ve got lots of mates there so it’s not going to be a vast change. Manchester is a very dynamic university with great people and this offer just seemed fantastic fun.”

Professor Keith Brown, Vice-President and Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, hailed Wood as “the UK’s leading public historian” and was “delighted to announce his appointment.”

“Because he is also widely respected as a serious scholar, we think our students will benefit greatly from his talents.”

Wood’s television documentaries span topics as varied as the Trojan War, Shakespeare and India. His 2010 series Story of England was described as “the most innovative history series ever on TV” by The Independent.

“I think I’ve done films on about 25 of the courses on offer at the History department,” he claimed. “Given the fantastic range of history options at Manchester, I can offer interesting speculations and cross-cultural comparisons and big-picture stuff.”

With plans to write and present a new series exploring the history of China over the next two years, Wood is conscious of potential difficulties involved in dedicating the time required of a university professor.

He said: “My biggest concern was how I could fit this in. I didn’t want people to say that I never come to the University.

“I’m looking at doing a continuous blog when I’m working in China and even bringing work in progress back to be looked at by students.”

He also plans to make use of his 35 years of experience as a film-maker and incorporate film into his teaching. “I don’t mind doing formal teaching,” he said, “but I like the idea of using film to help students see history.

“I think that film can play a part in inspiring students, especially first-years, about the possibilities of history. There are many different ways of approaching it and film adds another layer and brings it to life.”

Wood was born in Manchester and grew up in Moss Side. He graduated with a 2:1 from Oxford but three years into researching a PhD he left to become a journalist.

“I’d done three years of work on my thesis but I was nowhere near putting it together because I’d gone too wide,” he recalled. “I still have the draft in my drawer.

“I thought I had to get a job and I’d done a bit of journalism at Oxford. My first job was as a journalist for ITV. I even interviewed Arthur Scargill on News at 10, can you believe that?”

He went to work on current affairs for BBC Manchester when a friend offered him the chance to produce a show for BBC Birmingham. Wood suggested a show about Anglo-Saxons but his boss persuaded him to make it for BBC Manchester instead.

He explained: “I had someone in mind to present it, but they said I should do it instead to save money. The first film that went out got wonderful reviews. I walked into the office and people were asking whether I’d read the papers.

“The Beeb asked if I could make some more and that’s how it happened. It’s serendipity to be honest.”

Wood voiced concerns over Education Secretary Michael Gove’s plans to reform the history curriculum in schools to teach British history in chronological order.

He said: “I’m not opposed to Michael Gove himself and I don’t want my appointment to be in some sense tied to that.

“My experience of having children and working with primary schools is that the systematic arc of narrative stuff is just not appropriate, particularly for under-11s, and not a way that children get a sense of the past.

“I would much rather liberate the teachers and let them use their passion for the subject. But how you go about when you can only teach history two hours a week is the real problem.”

Wood’s youth was not spent solely in study. “A long time ago I played in a band with my mates in Manchester,” he recollected. “We had a reunion a couple of years ago and, who knows, we might even play together again!”

Asked whether Manchester Professor Brian Cox copied him in making the transition from musician to television academic, he laughed: “I bow to Brian Cox when it comes to being a muso.”