Simon Schama Goes Home (Briefly)
By Timothy P. Cross
the BBC first approached him about doing a documentary on the
history of Britain, University Professor Simon Schama
politely declined. After all, he hadn't lived in England for two
decades and even had moved away from teaching British history. The
project, he later told interviewer Charlie Rose, "seemed to be an
impossible thing to do. It would eat me alive." He recommended
others for it.
Several months later,
however, the BBC asked Schama again, and this time he agreed. "A
History of Britain" aired in the U.S. from October 30 to November
1, 2000, on the History Channel, which had collaborated on the
series. Covering Britain from prehistory to the end of Elizabeth
I's reign, the first six hours of what will be a 16-hour series won
rave reviews: "An extraordinary academic exercise," said The New
York Times; "high caliber programming," said the Wall Street
Schama admits that he found
television "a huge disciplinary master," forcing him to select
material for the program. Fortunately, what he was forced to leave
out of the series he was able to put in his richly illustrated
companion book, A History of Britain: At the Edge of the World?
3500 BC - 1603 AD (Talk Miramax Books, $40), which he says,
goes beyond being "the script between hard covers."
remaining 10 hours of the series, covering from the beginning of
the reign of James I to the present, are in production and will air
later in 2001. The second volume of Schama's history will be
published in conjunction with those airings.