Simon Schama and Teachers

The University Professor of History and Art History at Columbia University and host of the BBC documentary series A History of Britain promised to set a bomb under the Education Secretary’s plans for teaching history in our schools and he did just that.

The Telegraph’s Martin Chilton foreshadowed the the proceeding but asking the multitude entering the tent if “this was the queue for hating Michael Gove”.   It was described by Benedict Brogan live blogging for the Telegraph as “a blistering call to arms to Britain’s history teachers”.

Schama believes that there is simply too much in the Gove curriculum to allow for inquisitive young minds to become stimulated and ask the questions that teaching should inspire.   The fundamental problems with infrastucture the hours required and the lack of specialist teachers are not being addressed.  The new national curriculum for history is he says “‘1066 and All That without the jokes”.   In a sound-bite laden discourse he describe Gove’s vision for learning as “Gradgrindian” and “pedantic and utopian with a garnishing of tokenism”.  Schama invoked Heroditus, the father of history, who believed that at its core lies a fascination with other cultures not a desire for self-congratulation.

Some say that Gove has a eye on the top job as the whispering grows around the solidity of Cameron’s tenure but he may do well to look his current one and his relationship with the teaching profession.  History as Schama says should be “honest, tough-minded and should keep the powerful awake at night”.

Eric Schmidt – The New Digital Age

The Google Executive Chairman was at Hay to examine the future of a connected world.  Chaired by Marcus du Sautoy, Schmidt gave due credit to the UK’s role in creating the digital age, saying that the whole digital world was invented here in 1930s and ’40s by Alan Turing and the smart people who worked at Bletchley Park.

After a fascinating insight into our changing world from one of its leading change agents the atmosphere took on more of an edge when it came to questions.  “You obviously have a strong sense of responsibility for doing good in the world” said the person to ask a question “I just wondered where you feel paying tax responsibly come into that?”  There was resounding applause from the Hay crowd.   Schmidt claimed to be perplexed.  “If I were in charge of the international tax regime it would not be operating this way.  No rational computer scientist or mathematician would have erected such a system.”  He went on the that Google maximised its cash revenue in order to provide free services.  “We understand the complaint but we can’t fix it…the British government can fix it…the government should be in charge of the question.”  The audience didn’t let up and despite the Google boss saying “I do love your country” the second questioner up replied “we’d rather have you money than your affection.”

Eric Schmidt was resolute “It is normal for companies to do what Google is doing…If the government chooses to change the law we’ll absolutely follow it…we’ll do whatever you guys decide.”


Losing Myself in ‘The Sky’s Dark Labyrinth’

Guest Post by Dr Stuart Clark

Like every author, whenever I start a new project, I wonder what the best way to present my materialwill be. I know from previous books that I will be devoting years of my life to the endeavour, researching, writing and then discussing it. So it’s essential that I find both a stimulating subject matter and a way of presenting it that it excites me.

The Sky’s Dark Labyrinth is certainly that. It’s my debut novel.

I wanted to write about the fractious birth of science in the 17th century, set against the backdrop of religious divide as Europe ripped itself apart in the prelude to the Thirty Years War. My previous books have been non-fiction explorations of astronomy. Yet, as I researched this particular subject and its principal players, the more convinced I became that the way to do this most vividly was to dramatise it.

In the same way as CJ Sansom mixes crime fiction with popular history in his fantastic Shardlake series, so I wanted to mix historical fiction with popular science. So began the endless drafting and redrafting as I sought to find a voice that worked in fictional terms. I needed something that would bring the story and characters to believable life but would not twist the facts out of all proportion.

The Sky’s Dark Labyrinth is the story of two men who are rivals, working on different sides of the divided Christian Church. Johannes Kepler is a German Lutheran in the grip of a God-given inspiration to distil the heavenly motion of the planets into mathematical form and prove that God’s realm is understandable to humans. In Italy, the devoutly Catholic Galileo Galilei is convinced that the Earth is not the centre of the universe and sets out to prove this before Kepler can.

So, I have stepped into the world of fiction to tell their stories, to imagine how they felt as they looked at the universe, as they watched their friends and families die during the war, and how they balanced their religious beliefs with the sometimes contradictory new knowledge they were uncovering.

I’m finding it a liberating experience. All the things that sparked my imagination and that I reined in as a non-fiction writer, I can now bring to the fore. The works of HG Wells are sometimes described as scientific romances and I’ve come to think of The Sky’s Dark Labyrinth as my astronomical romance. It allows my imagination to turn these hagiographied brains into living, breathing individuals, embedded in their times and places.

It is as Johannes Kepler wrote, four centuries ago, “The roads that lead man to knowledge are as wondrous as that knowledge itself.” The Sky’s Dark Labyrinth is published by Polygon Books.

Stuart Clark’s Hay appearance is on Friday 3rd June, at 1pm.   His website is and his twitter account is @DrStuClark.

You can buy The Sky’s Dark Labyrinth here.