About Us

From the presenter of the BBC’s The Silk Road and Invasion! working with one of the country’s leading professors of history comes a new way to think about the past…

‘We challenged ourselves to write the history of things we weren’t necessarily sure even had a history’


The Idea

We believe that everything – even the most unexpected of subjects – has a history, and also that those histories link together in unexpected, and often rather magical, ways.

You will find out here how the history of the beard is connected to the Crimean War; how the history of paperclips is all about the Stasi; how the history of bubbles (and also cats) are all about the French Revolution; how the Titanic, the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Ground Zero are all connected, and what they have to do with Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations; you will come to understand why the history of the scar is so important; why the history of chimneys is so charming; why the history of snow is so inspirational.

The past to many is still often presented as the study of great men and women, events, wars and revolutions, cultural movements or epochs that move us from the ancient and medieval to the modern world. Some historians privilege different aspects of the past such as religion, society, economics, gender, politics, military affairs or ideas. All of this is useful; it brings different perspectives and insights to our study of the past. However, history as we know and understand it today is exceptionally complex and interconnected, and no one perspective on the past is really adequate in order to unpack it in its entirety.

We hope that Histories of the Unexpected will help to bridge this gap between the well-established scholarly embrace of complexity – achieved through mind-bending thought paths and innovative research – and the public appetite for digestible but meaningful and thought-provoking history.

Our flexible approach allows you to see the historical significance in everything, and extends to all manner of subjects, topics, themes, objects and emotions, and it helps you see how it all links together. It is these connections between different aspects of our past that breathe new life into our understanding of both the past and the present.

It is enormous fun. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Dr Sam Willis

Dr Sam Willis

Sam is one of the country’s best-known historians. He has made more than ten major TV series for the BBC and National Geographic including The Silk Road, Maritime China Reborn, Relics of China, Invasion!, Castles: Britain’s Fortified History, Outlaws, Weapons: Britain’s Armed History and Shipwrecks: Britain’s Sunken History. His documentaries have won prizes globally. He has also written more than ten critically acclaimed and award-winning books, most recently three for the new Penguin Ladybird Expert Series: The Spanish Armada, The Battle of the Nile and The Battle of Trafalgar, all to be published in 2018. Nonetheless, Sam is at his happiest recording podcasts and writing for Histories of the Unexpected.

Professor James Daybell

Professor James Daybell

James is an Oxford-educated Professor of Early Modern British History at the University of Plymouth, and Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.  He has produced more than eight books including Tudor Women Letter-Writers (Oxford University Press, 2006; paperback 2018), Women and Politics in Early Modern England (2004), The Material Letter (2012), Gender and Political Culture (2016) and Cultures of Correspondence (2016), and written more than 35 articles and essays on topics ranging from Renaissance letter-writing, Elizabethan politics, and secret codes, to the family, archives and the cultural history of gloves. James is Director of the AHRC-funded project ‘Gender, Power and Materiality in Early Modern Europe, 1500-1800’ in collaboration with the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Director of the British Academy/Leverhulme-funded ‘Women’s Early Modern Letters Online’ in collaboration with the University of Oxford and the Bodleian Library. He is also series editor of two book series: ‘Material Readings of Early Modern Culture’ and Gendering the Medieval and Early Modern Worlds. James has also appeared on numerous historical documentaries.

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