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Learning on Screen Awards 2019: An Interview with Professor Kate Williams

This year’s Learning on Screen Awards guest speaker was the brilliant Professor Kate Williams, renowned historian, author, and presenter. ERA caught up with her before the ceremony to ask what inspires her passion for TV and radio.

Were there any programmes that you watched growing up that inspired your love of history?

I loved watching Blue Peter as a child and loved their historical stories – and I remember particularly their visits to the Yorvik Centre and discussions about the renovations of the Mary Rose.

As Professor of Public Engagement in History, why do you think audio-visual material is valuable as a means of student engagement?

I think audio-visual material is vital to public engagement with history and young people in particular. Films and TV programmes can transform views, create incredible engagement with the past, win hearts and minds and change our perceptions of the past. TV is a powerful tool, beamed into our homes, watched in the classroom and can create political change and remind governments that they are always being held to account.

When working on shows like BBC Two’s Restoration Home and Young Victoria, alongside entertainment, how important is the educational value of this content? How do you balance both entertainment and education?

The educational value of everything I have done is absolutely key. It’s the most important aspect. I do a huge amount of research and I am passionate about communicating it to the viewers. I want them to know what I have found out and what I know – because it’s so fascinating. The letters, the diaries, the new sources – they are brilliant entertainment and it’s my job to show how fantastic they are.

“Films and TV programmes can transform views, create incredible engagement with the past, win hearts and minds and change our perceptions of the past.”

As well as TV broadcasting, you have also presented and worked on a number of radio documentaries. What are some of the pros and cons of expressing your work through TV compared to radio?

I love TV and radio. TV of course can create a picture – you can show a portrait, a house, a person even, and the viewers can make up their own mind. You can really tell a story. But I think that it is often easier radio where you can express dissenting opinions and debate the matter at hand – and focus closely on the words in sources. It’s great when we see more of that in TV.

Are there any great TV and radio shows you’ve seen recently that could be used to inspire learning in the classroom?

I am very interested in the future of Virtual Reality in historical film making (and also in heritage visits as well) – I am currently watching the use of virtual reality in interiors show Your Home Made Perfect (made by the Restoration Home team!) and I am very excited by how we might use a similar framework to reconstruct historical interiors and bring the historical home to life.

What do you see as the future for television and radio as an educational resource?

I think TV and radio has an incredibly bright future and has an even greater role to play in our current world in which there is a rise of contesting platforms and it is ever easier to spread fake news – TV and radio as an educational resource are as important as never before and it is fantastic to see so many brilliant film makers at the awards – I know the future is safe in their and their peers’ hands and I am excited to see what they will do in the future.