Britain's historians turn on Starkey

David Starkey poses for the camera while attending the Morgan Stanley Great Britons Awards in 2007.
David Sarkey poses for the camera while attending the Morgan Stanley Great Britons Awards in 2007.t

By Ian Dunt

David Starkey's views on Britain would "disgrace a first-year history undergraduate", his own colleagues have said.

The controversial historian has been the subject of ferocious debate recently after a Newsnight appearance saw him argue that "whites have become blacks" in the wake of the riots.

Now over 100 historians from across Britain's universities have demanded the BBC stop describing him as a historian at all and lambasted the sometimeTV presenter for his lack of "professionalism".


The letter, written by 102 academics to the Times Higher Education Magazine, reads: "His crass generalisations about black culture and white culture as oppositional, monolithic entities demonstrate a failure to grasp the subtleties of race and class that would disgrace a first-year history undergraduate.

"In fact, it appears to us that the BBC was more interested in employing him for his on-screen persona and tendency to make comments that viewers find offensive than for his skills as a historian.

The letter continued: "In addition to noting that a historian should argue from evidence rather than assumption, we are also disappointed by Starkey's lack of professionalism on Newsnight.

"Instead of thoughtfully responding to criticism, he simply shouted it down; instead of debating his fellow panellists from a position of knowledge, he belittled and derided them.

"On Newsnight, as on other appearances for the BBC, Starkey displayed some of the worst practices of an academic, practices that most of us have been working hard to change."

The letter demands that the BBC stop referring to Starkey as a historian on anything but his specialist subject, the Tudors.

Among the signatories are academics from Cambridge and the London School of Economics, where Mr Starkey has previously taught.

It also criticises the BBC for choosing to feature Mr Starkey in the first place.

"In our opinion, it was a singularly poor choice," the letter reads.

"The poverty of his reductionist argument... reflected his lack of understanding of the history of ordinary life in modern Britain. It was evidentially insupportable and factually wrong.

"The problem lies in the BBC's representation of Starkey's views as those of a 'historian', which implies that they have some basis in research and evidence: but as even the most basic grasp of cultural history would show, Starkey's views as presented on Newsnight have no basis in either."

Mr Starkey left viewers aghast when he appeared on Newsnight to express critical admiration for Enoch Powell's 'river of blood' speech and said Labour MP David Lammy sounded like a 'white man'.

Asked about the cause of the riots, he said: "What has happened is that a substantial section of the chavs... have become black.

"The whites have become black. A particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic gangster culture has become the fashion."

The appearance has subsequently been parodied in several YouTube videos setting his comments to a rap soundtrack.

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